Seyed Meghdad Ziatabar Ahmadi

Disasters such as the covide-19 pandemic ends up with too much of human and economic costs, such as loss of many lives, job loss and negative economic growth (chang,2020). As of march 9th, more than 117 million confirmed cases of the virus and 2.6 million deaths from the disease worldwide had been reported to the World Health Organization. Also, in the Middle East region more than 8 million cases and 145 thousand deaths are reported. Many countries in this region have faced increasing cases and the economy and daily activities were affected due to global crises; poverty rate is increasing; and unemployment rate is at an all-time high. Also, some governments of this region have implemented protection policies that lead public debt to a high level that is a threat for government credibility and economy resilience. According to the IMF Economic outlook (Jan 2021) economy growth rate estimated for 2020 is -3.5 percent. However, Taiwan’s economy has experienced a positive economic growth at the same time (3.11 percent). Table 1 shows us more details and a better perspective of the global economy in 2020.

Table 1: Economic Growth Rate Estimation (2020)

RegionGrowth Rate
World Output-3.5
Advanced Economies-4.9
Middle East and Central Asia-3.2
Euro Area-7.2
Emerging Market -2.4
Taiwan3.11

Source: World Economic Outlook, Jan 2021 and National Statistic, Republic of China.

In this situation, the main question is that is it possible to reduce such costs when the disasters happen? On the other hand, how can an economy be more resilient in response to exogenous shocks? At first, it is worth to explain what is the meaning of economic resilience?

Generally, an economy is resilient if; 1) it is able to recognize shocks in time and 2) it could adjust itself to respond properly. A resilient economy can design and implement suitable policies to prevent shocks propagation. During the Covide-19 pandemic, Taiwan has implemented such policies and became one of the few success stories of containing the novel coronavirus in the World. Table 2 shows the performance of the Middle Eastern countries in comparison with Taiwan’s experience.

Table 2: Covide-19 pandemic cases in the Middle East and Taiwan

CountryTotal CaseTotal DeathsCase/1mpopDeath/1mpopDeath/Case%
Turkey2,793,63229,09432,8823421.04
Iran1,698,00560,78620,0417173.58
Israel804,5915,91587,4786430.74
Iraq731,01613,59617,9023331.86
Jordan435,1304,98742,3594851.15
UAE413,3321,33541,4501340.32
Lebanon397,8875,08958,4757481.28
Saudi Arabia380,1826,53410,8061861.72
Kuwait201,8981,13346,8052630.56
Palestine198,5542,15738,3174161.09
Qatar167,41726359,626940.16
Oman144,4041,59427,7993071.10
Bahrain127,25547373,0742720.37
Cyprus37,23023330,6831920.63
Syria16,0421,068902606.66
Yemen2,545653842225.66
Egypt187,09411,0381,8051065.90
Taiwan97610410.41.02

Source:  https://www.worldometers.info/

As we can see, Taiwan has a good index in terms of “Case/1m Pop” and “Death/1m Pop”. Also, many of the confirmed cases were imported from abroad, suggesting limited levels of community transmission. This feat is all the more impressive given that the island lies just 81 miles from the coast of China, where the virus was first detected. In the following, are some main determinants of Taiwan’s successful story.

Lessons from the past

Such early alert and vigilant reaction to the coronavirus was due to a harsh lesson that Taiwanese government learnt from the SARS epidemic in 2003. The arbitrary lockout approach in the Heping Hospital at Taipei City, without appropriate measures, caused 24 civilian deaths with one committed suicide within 97 citizen infections; and 7 medical staff deaths within 57 medical personnel infections (Hsia, 2020).

The skepticism regarding the data from China (Yun, 2020) and crisis management experience learned from the last SARS epidemic (Piper, 2020) contributed to the effective measures in Taiwan in response to this global crisis. As soon as the Taiwanese health authorities recognized there were suspicious cases of a new type of virus spreading in China, the officials began to wonder whether it is SARS again (Piper, 2020).

Recognizing the Crises and Precautious Action

 Taiwan quickly took action to contain the spread of coronavirus at the early stage of the outbreak. Taiwan officials began to board and inspect passengers for fever or pneumonia symptoms on a direct flight from Wuhan on December 31, 2019. Right after the first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus, the border control and travel restrictions took place. The cross-sector coordination among multiple government agencies soon formed the disease battlefront in January 2020 (Hsia, 2020).

Central Epidemic Command Center

On January 20th, Taiwan quickly activated its Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) under the National Health Command Center. The CECC has policy-making authority on a range of issues including surveillance, border control, quarantine, and resource allocation. During this public health crisis, relevant departments of the executive branch are stationed in the center. The CECC is led by experts who provide guidance on disease prevention measures. The center also has public hot lines, where residents can call in and ask questions related to the virus.

Strict Quarantine Measures Utilizing Smart Technology

To prevent a large-scale outbreak, the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has implemented a strict quarantine policy. The mandatory quarantine is applied to people who have been exposed to confirmed Covid-19 infection cases. Local health organization officials will follow the protocols to track people under the mandatory quarantine with an electronic monitoring system and check their health condition. Working with the telecom carriers, the government uses smartphones for location tracking in order to enforce an effective quarantine (Smith, 2020). The system monitors phone signals and will signify an alert when those under the mandatory quarantine move away from their homes or turn off their phones. Health organization officials will call twice a day to check their health conditions and ensure people under the quarantine are with their phones.

Furthermore, the “Quarantine System for Entry” for airline passengers went online on February 16th. Passengers entering Taiwan can input their health information online prior to their flights or upon entry and later receive a health declaration pass to their cell phones upon arrival. Passengers should undergo a 14-days quarantine period and a 7-days self-management. During this period, every day, the CECC messages the people who are in quarantine and asks of their health situation.

Role of Social capital

In response to the coronavirus epidemic, residents in Taiwan demonstrate a relatively collaborative attitude and trustfulness toward the government’s proactive measures and public policies. At the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak, the government’s proactive measures such as inspecting passengers on direct flights from Wuhan in December, activating the Central Epidemic Command Centre, travel ban implementation, and securing mask supplies to every resident in Taiwan have helped to build government’s credibility and competency in the national crisis management. As a return, the government gets more civic support and collaboration.

What we can learn?

By reviewing Taiwan’s successful story in combating Covide-19, we can summarize some useful lessons:Taiwanese government and its people took the crises seriously

  • Taiwanese government and its people took the crises seriously
  • Strong response through lessons learned from last crises (SARS IN 2003)
  • Utilizing  Smart Technology
  • Strict and efficient quarantine system
  • Managing the shortages (mask) at the early stage
  • Social capital that cause Taiwanese people support government policies

Summary

Studying the successful story of other countries during crises can help governments to learn how to manage incoming crises and make the economy more resilient. Regarding the Covide-19 global crises, Taiwan has recorded successful performance and could prevent spreading the virus to the island. Some countries in the Middle East have implemented policy responses to the pandemic, such as; Fiscal policies (exempting or postponing rent payments and land taxes, suspending government fees, strengthening unemployment benefits, expanding cash transfers, etc.); Monetary policies (Cutting policy interest rates, expanding lending tools, Injecting liquidity to the banking system , etc.); and Macro-financial policies (IMF,2020). But these are one side of the story. The other side is preventing imposition of exogenous shocks to the domestic economy as much as possible. Despite some regional differences between Taiwan and the Middle Eastern countries, Taiwan’s experience has valuable lessons that can be employed by other countries. Lessons from Taiwan may help Middle Eastern countries to tackle this global crisis without compromising their quality of life and balancing between restricted economic activities and civic wellbeing.

Seyed Meghdad Ziatabar Ahmadi is a PhD student in Economics and a Visiting Scholar in the European Union Center, National Taiwan University, Taiwan.

References

Chang, I W J.(2020). Taiwan’s Model for Combating Covide-19: A Small Island with BiG Data. Available at : https://www.mei.edu/publications/taiwans-model-combating-covid-19-small-island-big-data

Yun, M. (2020, Mar 12). How Taiwan is containing coronavirus-despite diplomatic isolation by China. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/13/ how-Taiwan-is-containing-coronavirus-despite-diplomatic-isolation-by-china

Piper, K. (2020, Mar 10). Taiwan has millions of visitors from China and only 45 coronavirus cases. Here’s how. Vox. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2020/3/10/ 21171722/taiwan-coronavirus-china-social-distancing-quarantine

Hsia, C. (2020). Government intervention or social innovation: Understanding how Taiwan is coping with Covid-19 and developing resilience through social infrastructure services. Journal of Global Resources. 6 (01a). 20-25

Lu, J.R. & Chiang, T.L. (2011). Evolution of Taiwan’s health care system. Health Economics, Policy and Law, 6, p.85-107.doi:10.1017/S1744133109990351

Wu, T.Y., Majeed, A., Kuo, K.N. (2010). An overview of the healthcare system in Taiwan. London Journal of Primary Care, 3(2): p.115-119. doi: 10.1080/17571472.2010.11493315

Smith, N. (2020, Feb 3). Taiwan uses smartphone to monitor patients quaranitined over virus scare. The Telegraph. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/02/03/ taiwan-uses-smartphones-monitor-patients-quarantined-virus-scare/

IMF WORLD Economic Outlook. https://www.imf.org/en/publications/weo

IMF Regional Economic Outlook, Oct 2020. https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/REO/MECA/Issues/2020/10/14/regional-economic-outlook-menap-ccaWorldometers.  https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

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