Taiwan Minister of Health: We survived Covid with a handful of dead, let’s help build a global health system
Emerging infectious diseases pose a constant threat to global health, international economies, trade and tourism. As the world has grown closer through aviation and international transportation, the ability of pandemics to spread rapidly has increased. Covid-19, the new form of pneumonia that first appeared in Wuhan, China at the end of 2019, has killed more than 2.7 million people worldwide.
Taiwan’s geographic proximity to China risks becoming one of the most affected countries. Our experience dealing with the SARS epidemic means that Taiwan was acutely aware of the threat of a pandemic. It also meant that we knew what alarm bells to ring. On December 31, 2019, before most countries recognized the severity of the virus in Wuhan, authorities launched an improved surveillance system, alongside unremitting containment efforts since the first case in our country on January 21, 2020. had been 1,086 cases and only 11 deaths in Taiwan.
For the majority of the population, life and work continued. There were 253 days without any cases of domestic transmission between April and December 2020.
We have a strong national infectious disease healthcare network, led and supervised by experts in six regions. There are over 100 secondary intervention hospitals, and the twenty-two municipalities, counties and special towns have their own primary intervention hospitals. Within the network, there is legal authority to transfer patients with highly contagious diseases to these designated facilities. This has been instrumental in protecting our health system and our health workers.
Most of our non-Covid services continued to operate throughout the pandemic. To date, there have only been two outbreaks of Covid-19 associated with hospital in Taiwan, and no health care worker has died after contracting the virus.
As global economies contracted, Taiwan’s GDP growth last year was just over 3 percent, with an even higher growth rate of nearly 5 percent in the fourth quarter. Our economy has, for the most part, continued to function and prosper. At the onset of the pandemic, we quickly implemented flexible adjustments for quarantine, so ships and aircraft carriers keep our fishing, offshore wind farm, and air transport industries operating.
The cornerstone of our success, however, was public confidence in cooperation with the government’s response to contain Covid-19. We have worked tirelessly to strike a balance between the public’s right to know and personal privacy and liberty. As countries around the world have used the pandemic to harness control and strip the public of crucial data, openness to information has been at the heart of our response. At no time during the pandemic did Taiwan restrict people’s right to freedom of speech, assembly, or participation in public life. Although this was made possible by the low transmission of the coronavirus in our country, protecting these freedoms was at the heart of our goals.
The impact of the pandemic has been felt most by those who are already vulnerable or lack quality health services. The pandemic was able to take hold of the world thanks to our international ties. But it’s also thanks to our global community that we can eliminate the vulnerabilities that allowed the virus to spread. Taiwan will do everything possible to work with the World Health Organization and world health leaders to ensure that all people enjoy living and working conditions that promote healthy lives. We will monitor health inequalities and advocate for universal access to quality health services.
Taiwan’s response has been one of the global success stories, but the pillars that have enabled this must be available in countries around the world. There must be global surveillance and early warning systems to detect the threat of future emerging infectious diseases.
We urge the World Health Organization and the world community to recognize our contributions to the international community and to include Taiwan in international meetings, mechanisms and activities. We will continue to work with the rest of the world to ensure that all enjoy the basic human right to health. Echoing the mantra of the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, no one should be left behind.