Jun 12, 2020

Proactive planning and preparation: How Taiwan beat COVID-19

A great deal of careful planning and preventative action went into Taiwan’s successful mission to keep its COVID-19 numbers so low, says Dr Chen Ran-Chou, commissioner of the Department of Health, New Taipei City Government, Taiwan.

At the time of publishing, Taiwan had recorded 443 cases and only seven deaths. No new cases have been reported since 1 June.

Dr Ran-Chou told Ageing Asia’s webinar series ‘Global implications of COVID-19 on the Eldercare Sector’ that with its large elderly population and its location on China’s border, as well as its experience with SARS years prior, the Taiwanese knew from the outset the country would be particularly vulnerable.

The nation activated its emergency response as early as January 2020, making the borders strong and taking measures to reduce community infection.

The goal was to increase life expectancy and improve quality of life, Dr Ran-Chou said. 

Taiwan’s national health insurance meant every infected person received good treatment, he said.

Dr Ran-Chou described the ‘6P’ strategy that was followed in the city of New Taipei (population 4 million) to prepare for and manage the COVID-19 pandemic.

Proactive – The aim was to think ahead, and do things quickly with strong execution and teamwork. Before the first confirmed case, an emergency operation centre and an epidemic response medical network were established. They set up a registration system for face masks to ensure masks could go to medical personnel and citizens when they needed them. There was an inventory for epidemic prevention materials, and restrictions were placed on visitors to hospitals and long-term care facilities. A home quarantine care centre was established.

Plan – Strategic planning of the hospital and medical network was “very important”. The countries with the higher mortality rates caused their medical systems to crash, Dr Ran-Chou observed. Everyone coming from an epidemic area was quarantined for 14 days. If they had symptoms, they went to hospital for examination. There was a strong public awareness campaign using social media and the press to let people know about the spread of COVID-19 and how to prepare.

In Taiwan, hospitals are the first point of contact, not GPs. There was a strong information campaign about reducing the risk of infection e.g. hand washing, wearing a mask, staying home if you have been abroad, and avoiding crowded areas and visits to hospital.

Prepare – Taiwan prepared with supplies, funds, and prevention materials. Retired nurses were asked to return to work, and half-way houses for medical staff were established to allow healthcare staff to get rest if needed.

PackageInnovative technologies were used to deliver services.

Protect – Measures were taken to ensure the elderly were not in fear of COVID-19 and to maintain their health and quality of life. ‘Protect but don’t isolate’, was the mission. Guidelines and education materials were prepared, enough masks and prevention materials were stockpiled. Visitor restrictions in care homes were put in place and the elderly’s activities and programs were temporarily suspended. In nursing homes and residential care facilities, there were daily health checks, masks were worn and social distancing was practiced. Staff had to check their temperature and wash hands before entering the facility. New training was conducted, and environments had to be cleaned daily and disinfected. Visiting was moved online.

In daycare centres, services continued as much as possible, with a focus on keeping the elderly safe. Temperatures were checked, staff had to wash their hands and wear masks, and social distancing of 1.5m was implemented. There was daily cleaning and disinfecting, and visitor restrictions.

Home care services were still provided but with careful guidelines. If a person was quarantined, the carer had to remain in a different room. Temperatures were measured, and glove and mask protection worn.

Efforts were made to protect the elderly, but not isolate them. With visits banned, video exercise classes were brought in, as well as teaching and education programs for the elderly, and cable TV for a ‘safe at home’ program.

Village officers delivered meals, provided telephone care, and even took away garbage.

The Internet of Things was used for COVID-19 tracking, monitoring and case identification.

Innovative services, such as epidemic prevention information, online videos, and e-books were established for people in home isolation or quarantine to enrich their lives at home.

Practise – Taiwan also conducted large-scale drills prior to local transmission. They practised tracking of people who should be in quarantine, social distancing, temperature taking, counselling, pet care, cleaning of infected areas, neighbourhood disinfections, and outdoor screening at specially erected stations. The army was also brought in to help with cleaning and disinfecting.

Dr Ran-Chou said Taiwan’s policy was to “prior plan, prepare, protect, but not panic.” With its calmness and foresight, alongside a careful and meticulous approach to detail, Taiwan was able to achieve what wealthier and more powerful nations could not.

Image: pixfly, iStock. Model is posed. Image does not represent actual people or events.

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