Lastnight (Apr.1), I was watching the PBS NewsHour, and saw this segment by Nick Shifrin about Taiwan’s response to Covid-19. After the SARs outbreak in 2003, Taiwan became very sensitive/aggressive to infections migrating from Mainland China. Further, World Health Organization (WHO) doesn’t recognize Taiwan (because of Mainland China’s lobbying to keep them in a state of “future” statehood with the mainland, but that’s off topic). The single biggest “tell” of the segment, was an interview done with former Taiwan CDC head, Steve Kuo. He tells the story of January, 2020 when hints/whispers started to come across from the Mainland about Wuhan. Taiwan CDC sent two officials to investigate:
We pick up the signal that there is some strange outbreak in the Wuhan areas at the end of the last year from social media networks.
We decided, and we did send two medical doctors to Wuhan from Taiwan CDC to get a better understanding of what happened there, OK? And then five days later, on January 20, the government decided immediately to set up and activate the central command centers.
That centralized command center launched border restrictions before almost anyone else, set local quarantine rules, and turned to technology.
One phone app allows Taiwan residents to find stores with masks in stock. Another app provides information on all of those who are COVID-19 positive, where they have been, and their case history. And the government made sure it had enough medical equipment.
After the SARS outbreak, actually, we have the law to require hospitals to have a stockpile for all medical supplies for 30 days for the hospitals.
What I’m finding most fascinating is Taiwan CDC had taken HUGE steps in just a week’s time from the initial monitoring of info slipping through social media channels, to sending two doctors out to Wuhan to find out more. They shutdown the border once they activated their plan. Travel restriction and quarantine to the mainland (as they point out just 81 miles away). They had no qualms, no second thoughts, they just did it. Like preparing for a typhoon or earthquake, just automatic. Here’s the plan, here’s what’s happening, start sending out notices to enact the “plan”. They didn’t even wait or pay attention to WHO, because Taiwan is NOT part of WHO, they cannot depend on WHO protecting their country. I think also I saw reports (mentioned briefly in previous blog entry), that U.S. Intelligence agencies had already discovered through their monitoring of communications that there was cases of under-reporting already going on back in mid-January despite WHO applauding China’s efforts to stem the epidemic. Between U.S. Intelligence reports indicating there was an in-progress epidemic going on in China AND the Taiwan CDC investigation, you got two, count-em’ two HUGE data points that should have put every hospital administrator, County Health commissioner, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, U.S. State Dept. on alert that we needed to stop travel from Mainland China, quarantine anyone in flight from China (from any point on the globe) for minimum of 14 days. The FEMA medical supply stockpile would then put out automatic orders for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and for ventilators, incrementing up ventilator orders each week anticipating a worst case scenario. Getting those manufacturing companies to start putting on more people per shift for all the supplies. Getting hospitals ready to do field operations for non-critical beds, keeping the ICU and ED’s open and operating at max. capacity. Looking at doubling-up on existing ventilators, etc. But it’s too late now 50/50 hindsight, Monday morning quarterbacking. But now at least we know, take action early, definitively and look to Taiwan CDC for a demonstration of competent effective planning and operations when the next epidemic takes hold. This does give me some hope, that someone, somewhere worldwide had a plan and it worked (for them at least).