A leading Taiwanese scientist has explained why the island has dealt with coronavirus so well – and said data from China cannot be trusted.
Professor Ih-Jen Su, the former director of Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control, explained that Taiwan has prepared for a pandemic since the SARS outbreak of 2002 which mostly affected China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Nursing homes were given thousands of ventilators and the number of intensive care beds was increased to 10,000.
That figure is four times Australia’s 2,500 beds even though the two countries have similar populations of around 25million.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (C), seen wearing a face mask amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic alongside soldiers and officials on April 9
To date, Taiwan has recorded only 385 cases of COVID-19 compared to Australia’s 6,300, China’s 82,000 and America’s 560,000.
As soon as officials heard about a mysterious pneumonia in China in December, they started preparing for the worst.
Aggressive testing, contact tracing and isolation of the sick were set in motion and on January 2 Taiwan activated its emergency operations centre before banning flights from China.
Professor Su told The Age that Taiwan has been rehearsing for a virus outbreak for 17 years.
‘We exercise hospital and control measures one to two times a year. The most important thing is the earlier the better for control measures,’ he said.
Professor Su said last month that the west would struggle to contain the virus because it lacks the experience of SARS.
‘The situation in other countries now resembles the situation we were in during the first few weeks of the SARS spread in Taiwan in early 2003,’ Professor Su told the Financial Times.
‘You are not ready, you have no experience.’
Taiwanese priests, all wearing face masks, pose for a photograph after celebrating behind closed doors at the Holy Family Church in Taipei on April 9
The scientist also said officials in Taiwan refused to trust case numbers recorded in China.
‘We get not very transparent data based on their presentation so we make the decision that we should take a step ahead. It’s almost impossible to have some real data from China,’ he told The Age.
It took China until January 20 to admit that the virus transmitted from human to human.
But Taiwan had been screening passengers from Wuhan since December 31.
CORONAVIRUS CASES IN AUSTRALIA: 6,366
New South Wales: 2,863
South Australia: 431
Western Australia: 523
Australian Capital Territory: 103
Northern Territory: 28
TOTAL CASES: 6,366
Professor Su also claimed statistics from the World Health Organisation should be taken with a pinch of salt because they are rarely up to date.
‘Even WHO is always behind the real data,’ he said. ‘We use WHO and China data only as a brief reference, but we should prepare one step ahead.’
Taiwan is not a WHO member, because of objections from China, which claims the island as its own and deems it to have no right to membership of international bodies.
Such an approach, Taiwan says, deprived it of timely information to fight the virus, and it accused the WHO of having ignored its communications early in the pandemic, which has infected 1.6 million people and killed 100,000 worldwide.
China’s Communist Party regards Taiwan as a breakaway province and has vowed to one day seize the island – by force if necessary.
Beijing’s efforts to isolate the island have ramped up since the election of President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016 because she does not view the island as part of a ‘one China’.
In Beijing on Thursday, a foreign ministry spokesman said Taiwan´s Democratic Progressive Party had ‘been going high and low, deliberately engaging in political manipulation, and continuously playing up the issue of Taiwan´s so-called participation in the World Health Organization’.
‘Its true aim is to seek independence through the pandemic. We are firmly opposed to this, and their scheme will never succeed,’ he added.
Pupils wearing face masks cross a street in Taipei, Taiwan, 09 April 2020