What is the Best Way to Respond to a New Virus?

Taiwan has had very few cases of the new coronavirus and only one death. And this is a country that was considered at one of the highest risk for a coronavirus outbreak because so many of their people, over 850,000, reside and work in mainland China.

How did they do it? What have they done differently than the rest of the world?

They acted quicker.

During the SARS outbreak in 2003, they put together plans and strategies and policies in preparation for the next outbreak. And because these things were already in place, they could react very quickly. And speed makes a huge difference. An outbreak can be contained only if you act quickly.

Their national health command center has a branch dedicated to outbreak response. When they found out there was an unknown virus in Wuhan, China on December 31st, they immediately began restricting flights to and from that area, and started screening passengers. Only a week later, they were quarantining people who showed symptoms.

Their central epidemic command center was able to direct everything, including quarantining people and border control. The command center gave daily press briefings, identified sources of false information, and helped relieve families and businesses of the financial hardships epidemics create.

They also did things that we probably couldn't do in the United States. For example, they identified patients' 14-day travel history. People who fell into a risk category where located and put on "self-quarantine."

That may violate privacy laws, but maybe there's a way to make an exception for things like this. The government also gave pharmacies and hospitals access to their patients' travel histories. All of this would make it easier to respond quickly to an outbreak and shut it down before it got out of hand.

The command center also used computers to analyze where in the country people were getting sick, and then alerted everyone in real-time to avoid those areas. They gave daily press briefings, and regularly provided public service announcements that were all available online.

They also checked everyone's temperature before they entered a store, mall, restaurant, or an office building.

They used military personnel to help increase their production of things they needed like surgical masks. They were able to make 10 million masks per day.

One thing we should all be doing right now is seeing what works and what doesn't work, because sooner or later we will have another epidemic, and it very well might be even more deadly than this one. Hopefully, we'll all be able to handle it better next time.

Read more about Taiwan's actions: Taiwan sets example for world on how to fight coronavirus.

Listen to a short podcast about this: Episode 9.

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