By Daphne K. Lee and Jeremy Van der Haegen

The international community has praised Taiwan's handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Despite being a close neighbor to China with hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese working across the strait, Taiwan has only seen 47 confirmed cases compared to over 80,000 infections in China.

Many have credited Taiwan’s success so far to the government’s swift travel limitations policy in early February, quality healthcare system, and transparent digital communication. Meanwhile, the country is actively pursuing new preventive and disease control measures instead of waiting for rescue from the World Health Organization.

Closer to developing an efficient coronavirus test kit

Academic Sinica, Taiwan’s leading research institution, recently discovered antibodies that are capable of rapidly identifying the proteins of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

If successfully developed, the potential reagent will serve as an efficient testing kit that would lower the screening time from four hours to within 20 minutes.

Dr. Yang An-suei (楊安綏), the leader of the research team, said the new antibodies are extremely efficient at identifying the new coronavirus because they do not react to other strains of coronaviruses like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

The research team is collaborating with the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Food and Drug Administration to bring the rapid coronavirus detection kit to Taiwan as soon as possible, according to Dr. Yang.

Kuo Pei-chun, Academic Sinica’s media staff, told The News Lens that introducing the new testing kit to Taiwan would be the current priority, but the institution did not exclude the possibility of sharing the innovation with the global community in the future.

Face mask rationing system made available online

On March 9, Taiwan’s Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) announced plans to make surgical face masks available online.

The government has increased its face mask production since January, but the masks are still high in demand. As the daily production numbers are slowly catching up, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) raised the weekly quota of face masks per citizen to three.

The working class in Taiwan was especially struggling with the rationing system. More often than not, residents have to line up to buy face masks at their neighborhood pharmacies, which have limited daily supplies.

Taiwan’s Digital Minister Audrey Tang (唐鳳) has led the digital transition of the face mask rationing system. Taiwanese citizens will be able to order face mask delivery to convenience stores by registering their National Health Insurance card or Citizen Digital Certificate card online.

The CECC stated that the system is currently undergoing pressure tests to ensure its stability before going online.

State-produced spray alcohol

The state-owned Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corp (TTL) announced on March 9 the production of pocket-sized hand sanitizers, which will be available in 135 stores nationwide this week.

TTL has been selling 300ml and 600ml glass bottles of alcohol sanitizers since February 24. For the portable version, the TTL expects to increase production to 120,000 bottles a day. The first few batches will go to hospitals before store retail.

Taiwan’s effective response to the COVID-19 outbreak might have stemmed from its experience in the 2002 SARS epidemic, when there were delays in quarantine and diagnosis. Learning from its previous outbreak, Taiwan has been able to react to the current crisis quickly. The country has also benefited from keeping health updates as transparent as possible.

The COVID-19 epidemic has infected over 114,000 people worldwide. Of the 47 confirmed cases in Taiwan, one death was recorded and 17 patients have been discharged.

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TNL Editor: Daniel Kao (@thenewslensintl)

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