Coronavirus: Taiwan reports no new cases of COVID-19, shows merits of acting early

As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise around the world, one place has repeatedly been held up as an example of a success story: Taiwan.

Despite being located next to mainland China, where COVID-19 originated late last year, Taiwan has managed not only to keep its cases of coronavirus under control, but on Tuesday it announced that for the first time in more than a month there were no new cases.

There have been 393 cases recorded on the self-ruled and democratic island, which its government says is independent but Beijing claims is part of China. 

Of those cases, a total of 338 were imported cases - brought in by people infected overseas - and six deaths have been recorded.

Since early on in the outbreak, experts have lauded Taiwan's response to the pandemic due its aggressive, pre-emptive approach. 

Not only has the island kept deaths to a minimum, it has done so without having to enforce a national lockdown like in New Zealand.

Initial projections estimated that Taiwan, with a population of around 23 million, was likely to have the second highest number of coronavirus cases in the world due its close proximity to mainland China, according to a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) last month.

More than 80,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been recorded on the mainland, with the death toll standing at more than 3300.

The paper credited the island's past experience dealing with SARS and MERS as perfect preparation for the pandemic.

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung told a news conference he was cautiously optimistic with the lack of new cases.

"Of course, we hope it has passed," he said. "But we still need to be on our guard. Of course, we feel happy at no new cases today."

Between January 20 and February 24, Taiwan took 124 actions to identify possible cases and combat the spread of COVID-19, the paper concluded. 

Among the steps taken were a number of measures at the border, quick case identification and actions to contain the spread. The preventive measures started as soon as the World Health Organization was notified of pneumonia of an unknown cause in Wuhan on December 31.

The government also swiftly moved to give all hospitals, pharmacies and medical clinics access to patients' recent travel histories, the paper said.  

"Taiwan’s government learned from its 2003 SARS experience and established a public health response mechanism for enabling rapid actions for the next crisis," the paper's authors concluded.

"Well-trained and experienced teams of officials were quick to recognise the crisis and activated emergency management structures to address the emerging outbreak."

Worldwide, there have been almost 2 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, with the death toll at over 125,000.