Taiwan has seen its number of confirmed COVID-19 cases nearly double in the past five days from 59 on Sunday to 108 yesterday. The nation might be unable to prevent an epidemic within its borders, despite the diligent efforts of the government and the public.
There are indications that community transmission might already have begun.
The Centers for Disease Control has said it is particularly concerned over the case of a woman in her 20s living in southern Taiwan who has not traveled abroad recently and leads a relatively secluded life.
The government should not be complacent: According to data from the World Bank, Taiwan has a population density of 652 people per square kilometer, compared to 275 in the UK, 205 in Italy and 36 in the US. Due to this, the virus could spread more quickly here than it has in Europe. Taiwan is also an “aged society,” with elderly people particularly at risk from the virus.
In an epidemic scenario, the nation’s healthcare system could be overwhelmed quickly.
While health officials are rightly focused on ramping up prevention measures, the government must also ensure that planning is done in parallel to fully prepare the nation for the containment phase, should an epidemic arise.
Events worldwide in the past few days have at times seemed surreal, with the rapid introduction of draconian containment measures not seen since World War II.
Italy is a front line of the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. Rome has restricted travel and shut schools. The entire nation is in a virtual lockdown.
In the UK, the situation is rapidly deteriorating. The majority of its schools are to shut today and nobody knows when they will reopen. People aged 70 or older have been asked to prepare to self-isolate in their homes for up to four months. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reportedly considering placing London under lockdown.
It might be that Taiwan will have to implement similar measures to protect elderly and other vulnerable people.
Most countries lack sufficient ventilators. The UK has only 5,000 of these vital pieces of equipment, which will be needed to keep people breathing, as the virus affects the lungs. Manufacturers have been asked by the British government to switch production to ventilators. It is uncertain whether this plan will work and London has been criticized for not acting sooner.
Health officials in Taiwan should be exploring all options to increase ventilator supply.
A critical shortage of ventilators in Italy forced hospitals to triage, reserving treatment for those judged to have a better chance of survival. Officials here should also plan for this possibility.
The UK has plans to bring doctors and nurses out of retirement to assist with a projected surge in patients, while some US states are considering similar measures. There are also plans in the UK for hotels — many now half-empty — to be overflow hospital wards.
Additionally, the British military has 20,000 troops ready to be deployed to help tackle pandemic issues.
Some or all of these measures should be considered here.
If mass home quarantine becomes a reality, food delivery will become a problem. Taiwan has a sophisticated food delivery network and online shipping sector. The government should start consulting with food delivery companies, online retailers — even taxi drivers, restaurants and convenience stores — to develop a delivery system for quarantined families.
The government must hope for the best and plan for the worst. The world has been turned on its head by the virus and this administration will now be judged solely through the prism of its response to it.
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