In time of coronavirus, Taiwan has a doctor in the house (or the vice-president’s office)


Taiwan’s vice-president, epidemiologist Chen Chien-jen

Taiwan’s treatment of the coronavirus pandemic is considered extraordinary and quite remarkable, tough, transparent and effective. Consider this. Even though 850,000 of Taiwan’s 23 million citizens live in mainland China and 400,000 work there, Taiwan has just 169 cases (as of March 23) compared to more than 80,000 in China.

How did this happen?

Two reasons.

First, Taiwan learnt the lessons of its experience with SARS in 2003. As soon as news came in of the outbreak in Wuhan, Taipei deployed several measures, including the use of big data to help contain the spread in Taiwan.

But, it’s not just that Taiwan has one of the world’s best health systems, it’s lucky enough to have an epidemiologist as vice president.

Chen Chien-jen, who has a degree in public health and studied epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, was praised for his tenure as minister of health during the SARS crisis. At the time, managed quarantining and screening procedures very effectively. So when the coronavirus outbreak happened, he was watchful and put all systems on the go. At a critical moment, Taiwan must be glad it has a doctor in the house.

Unsurprisingly, Taiwan is quietly confident about what it’s calling its “proactive, transparent, comprehensive, and collaborative approach” to the pandemic. Here’s a tweet from the Taiwan Presidential Office: