The Wuhan pneumonia (novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19) epidemic is raging around the world, and Taiwan has also fallen recently. Some foreign media analyzed Taiwan’s health units’ failure to learn from the experience of other countries after the outbreak, as well as the culture of not daring to challenge authority, so that the virus finally caught up with Taiwan at last.
The Financial Times reported that the scenes of oxygen deprivation, tight hospital beds, and elderly patients dying alone at home, which have appeared in Italy, the United States, and recently India over the past 16 months, are being played out in Taiwan; Taiwan has been a model for epidemic prevention in the world, and when Wuhan pneumonia first appeared in China, Taiwan reacted quickly and immediately implemented strict border control, isolation, and epidemic transfer measures, all of which were set in place from the 2003 These were all procedures established from the 2003 SARS epidemic, but infection experts believe that Taiwan’s health units wasted the time they had earned and failed to learn from other countries’ experience in dealing with outbreaks.
Former disease control director Su Yiren told the Financial Times that the central epidemic command center has not been prepared for a possible outbreak over the past year or so.
During the pandemic, Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung insisted on using the accurate but time-consuming nucleic acid test (PCR), rather than using rapid screening reagents for mass screening, and did not study the efficacy of various rapid screening reagents on the market and prepare sufficient stocks in advance; this led to a shortage of rapid screening reagents after the outbreak in Taiwan. This led to a shortage of fast screening reagents in Taiwan after the outbreak, and different counties and cities used different fast screening reagents, resulting in a wide variation in testing accuracy.
The report also cites medical experts who point out that Taiwan let mildly ill patients stay in the best-equipped wards before the massive outbreak of the local epidemic, so that when a large number of seriously ill patients emerged, hospitals could not receive these patients quickly.
The report noted that another problem with Taiwan’s epidemic prevention seems to be culturally related, as the achievements of epidemic prevention over the past year have given commander Chen Shih-chung a great reputation and made other public health experts afraid to challenge him, said Su Yiren: “People realize that ‘against the clock’ will not yield good results, so local officials are do not dare to take the initiative.”
The Financial Times stressed that Taiwan’s achievements in preventing the epidemic over the past year or so should still not be dismissed, as the very nature of a pandemic can drive the health system to the brink of collapse; Taiwan now needs a different set of coping skills, with strict border controls successfully stopping the virus from invading in the first round of the outbreak, and speed and resilience being crucial in a local outbreak. The implementation of alert level 3 has allowed the number of new confirmed cases to begin to decrease over the past two days, and the government is no longer opposed to quick screening for employees by companies themselves, allowing the testing base to expand further.
But Taiwan still has a long way to go, Su Yiren worry: “I worry that this is just the tip of the iceberg.”