There are two places where COVID-19 has come and mostly gone, with minimal economic impacts. As reported by Tom Blackwell in MSN.com Singapore and Taiwan approached COVID-19 in a different way. Singapore’s city state houses six million people, but as of last week had only 435 cases and zero mortalities. Taiwan has over 23 million people but only has 135 cases and 2 deaths. Schools and workplaces remained open during the crisis, meaning the economy did not take the kind of hit that the Canadian economy is experiencing.
How did they do this? Singapore and Taiwan achieved virus control by isolating people who may “have COVID-19, tightly controlling international travel and zealously pursuing those who had contact with the infected.”
Singapore used police officers to find potential COVID-19 contacts, and gave people in quarantine government issued cell phones for monitoring. Quarantined persons were required to send photos of their surroundings so that authorities knew they were staying in place.
Singapore also commenced health status screenings of all passengers arriving from Wuhan on January 3, and extended the screening to all passengers by February They also tested almost 2,200 people a day.
Taiwan allowed doctors and pharmacists access to the population’s recent travel histories as well as digital health files, allowing the tracing of potential carriers. Anyone in quarantine risked heavy fines if they did not abide by it.
The difference appears to be attitudinal and also structural. Right from the beginning the COVID-19 pandemic was treated very seriously, as both countries were heavily impacted by the 2003 SARS outbreaks. Both countries set up national command centres, stockpiled medical supplies, and could quickly set up screening centres at shopping malls.
Both Singapore and Taiwan have a centralized government that provides universal health care, unlike Canada where there are thirteen different jurisdictions.
It was Jeff Kwong, a public health professor at the University of Toronto and a family physician that suggested looking at the effectiveness of the Singapore and Taiwan approaches. Dr. Kwong also stressed that in Canada “at-home quarantine should be clearly mandatory.Canadians are very nice and we assume that everybody will follow the rules … (But) we might have been too lax.”