How Taiwan Managed COVID-19 – Lessons to learn

Whether you are working as a communicator in the private or public sector, having a grip on how to effectively communicate during a pandemic is important to the success of containing the outcome.

Here’s my take on how the Taiwanese government managed to avoid a full-blown outbreak of the Corona Virus pandemic.

Taiwan is a few miles off mainland China and was actually one of the first places Corona Virus emerged, I bet you had no idea. As of March 6th, they had only 44 people who have been infected with the virus. How you may ask? A country of over 24 million people who share a close proximity with China has been able to contain such a low number of infected citizens. 

Well, they planned ahead!
They say early detection saves lives. Well, in this case, early preparation did.

A little back story, April of 2003 saw over 483 Taiwanese nationals infected with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which caused a fatality rate of over 11%. The Taiwanese government learnt a lesson from this and thus established the National Health Command Center – NHCC, which can be likened to our NCDC in Nigeria.

Once the Chinese new year began and COVID-19 had reared its head, with Chinese and Taiwanese nationals travelling for the holidays. The NHCC understood the threat this was going to pose and began taking necessary steps to prevent a full-blown pandemic, much like they had experienced in 2003 with SARS. Alerts were created for nationals and travellers. Dispatching all necessary containment resources to strategic locations.

A toll-free number was set up at the early stages of the Corona Virus outbreak, citizens were encouraged to ask questions in relation to the virus. Once it became a full-blown pandemic and the number was stretched. They tasked each state to create their own.

Big Data

The Taiwanese government realized that to fight any health-related outbreak, technology could be leveraged and given that they had an up-to-date National Health Insurance Database. They leveraged this to create a Smart System of monitoring and communicating with its citizens to keep an eye on the outbreak. Citizens travel patterns, travel history, health symptoms that could pose a huge threat to the individual’s health was heavily monitored. Low-risk citizens were issued fast travel clearance, high-risk travellers were quarantined whether they liked it or not.

Communicate Often & Frequently
I have a saying, which is, there’s absolutely nothing like over communication, most especially during a time such as this. The Taiwanese Minister of Health and Welfare began giving daily updates as soon as the outbreak emerged, as well as the NHCC, none was agnostic of the other. Public Service Announcements were made across online channels, information such as;

  1. When and Where masks should be used
  2. Importance of washing one’s hands
  3. Why resources shouldn’t be hoarded

Meanwhile, on the onset of the outbreak, the Taiwanese government has banned the exportation of masks. All political parties were involved in spreading the word. The outbreak was not used as leverage. Communication was done in all indigenous dialects and sign language. From the well-known languages to the relatively unknown.

Prepared, Proactive and Concise

Early action is crucial. So also is clear, concise communication from the grassroot up! Having a well-trained task force for situations like this also helps. C. Jason Wang, director of the Center for Policy, Outcomes, and Prevention at Stanford University, who also worked on the reformation of Taiwan’s National Health Insurance System, had this to say:

In a crisis, governments often make difficult decisions under uncertainty and time constraints. These decisions must be both culturally appropriate and sensitive to the population. Through early recognition of the crisis, daily briefings to the public, and simple health messaging, the government was able to reassure the public by delivering timely, accurate, and transparent information regarding the evolving epidemic. Taiwan is an example of how a society can respond quickly to a crisis and protect the interests of its citizens.

Research Source: Google.com and ZME

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