When an airliner carrying passengers from the UK arrived in Taiwan on Dec. 27, some critics unreasonably compared it with last year’s chartered flights from Wuhan, China. This is a fine example of forgetting the pain once the wound is healed. Perhaps these people need to be reminded of a few things.
First, does the UK compare with China in terms of their transparency of information? For example, the UK warned other countries as soon as it discovered a new variant of COVID-19, although it only knew that the variant had a relatively high basic reproductive number (R0 value, the average number of other people who get infected by each infected person), while other information had not yet been confirmed. This stands in contrast with China, where a pneumonia-causing virus was circulating for two months, but China only conceded that this was the case when it was forced to do so.
Second, in February last year, when there was a worldwide shortage of personal protective equipment, one could only buy two masks at a time in Taiwan and they were often sold out everywhere. Today, who does not have a stock of two or three boxes of masks at home? In February, medical alcohol was also in short supply, but now supermarkets sell a bottle of alcohol for just NT$79. A box of double-debossed masks costs just NT$199 and they even come in pink.
The third and most important point is that at the beginning, the world was facing a completely unknown virus. For example, no one was certain of its incubation period, clinical expressions, infectiousness, mortality rate or cycle threshold. No one knew how long a sick person would remain infectious or whether the virus spread through droplet transmission or, even more seriously, airborne transmission.
When Chinese ophthalmologist Li Wenliang (李文亮) revealed the breakout in Wuhan, even he thought it was a new outbreak of SARS. A research paper originally published on April 7 last year and republished by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the July issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases found that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, has a median R0 value of 5.7, which is not just higher than SARS, but even in the same league as poliomyelitis (R0 value 4.9) and smallpox (R0 value 5.2). However, the most recent information is that SARS-CoV-2 has an R0 value ranging from a little more than 1 to a little more than 3.
Tens of millions of pieces of data about COVID-19 were collected by the US CDC from around the world last year, and have been collated and clarified. For example, the virus does spread through droplet transmission, the incubation period rarely exceeds 10 days, and those who become ill, testing positive, are typically infectious for no more than 10 days.
Such revelations finally allowed Taiwanese to feel a little reassured, while confirming that the government’s strategy of a 14-day quarantine followed by a seven-day period of self-health management, as well as wearing a mask, is the most effective containment method.
However, these important pieces of information were unknown back in February.
Over the past six months, Taiwan has only had one case of local transmission [until yesterday], which was completely traceable. This is not just good luck; it is because Taiwanese have been extra cautious from the very beginning.
Despite going partly by guesswork, Taiwan did the right thing in some key aspects. That is how Taiwanese achieved today’s disease prevention results, which have won the world’s admiration.
Nonetheless, some people are using newly discovered information to question why Taiwan could not relax its restrictions 10 months ago. This is a ridiculous attitude to take. The truth is that Taiwan’s disease prevention team is clearly the world’s busiest.
It has persevered in the face of one challenge after another, yet it must still deal with verbal assaults from pundits who care little for the facts, as well as the insincerity of the “soy paste pot culture.” It really is a shame to behold.
Liu Ying is a physician.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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