Measures against COVID-19 tackled in International Best Practice webinar

With more than four million confirmed cases and around 300,000 deaths worldwide as of early May, countries are scrambling to control the relentless spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). 

With only seven recorded deaths so far, Taiwan is among the most successful countries to respond to the pandemic. To learn from Taiwan’s example in combating COVID-19, the first webinar session of the International Best Practice Series—organized by the Asian Institute of Management, Ateneo de Manila University’s related professional schools, and De La Salle University Jesse M. Robredo Institute of Governance—was held last April 24 through Microsoft Teams.

As projected

Months into the global pandemic, surging COVID-19 infection rates continue to saturate health system capacities in different countries, with protective equipment and medical resources also dwindling. Lending insight into her country’s response to the outbreak, Taiwan Health Organization President Dr. Mei-Shang Ho emphasized the importance of preventing transmission of the virus and minimizing waves of infections to avoid overwhelming the healthcare sector.

Ho shared that there are four “layers” of protective measures being implemented in Taiwan to mitigate the spread of the disease. The first layer is the national border control that denies direct entry of individuals from epidemic hotspots or areas having high infection rates.

Immediately after a then-unidentified outbreak was reported in Wuhan, China, Taiwan implemented inspection measures for those arriving from the city on December 31 of last year, Ho recounted. Taiwan recorded its first confirmed case last January 21; four days later, the country banned all non-essential travel to Wuhan and denied inbound entry from China.

On a deeper level, the individual layer of protection covers health practices like physical distancing, wearing face masks, and handwashing. Individual health is a separate layer, according to Ho, which encompasses other factors that may contribute to the severity of the symptoms and the afflicted’s chances at recovery—such as adequate nutrient intake, psychological well-being, non-sedentary lifestyle practices, and pre-existing conditions like hypertension and obesity.

The final layer involves healthcare facilities, which require ample resources like medical equipment as well as contingency plans such as the conversion of commercial buildings to temporary health centers. Ho stressed, “Healthcare facilities must be ready to serve [COVID-19 patients needing hospitalization] so that they can recover from their illness.”

Through the four layers of protection, Ho said that the transmission rate can be lowered in time for herd immunity—wherein the virus stops spreading because a significant proportion of the population has developed a resistance against COVID-19—to eventually be attained, either through mass vaccination or through acquiring immunity by contracting the disease and recovering from it. Either method is easier said than done, though.

The immune system typically produces antibodies to fight off infections, gaining the ability to remember and recognize the harmful microorganisms that entered the body—expectedly responding faster upon encountering the same bacterial or viral strain in the future. However, the World Health Organization recently cautioned that there is no consensus or conclusive evidence at the moment that individuals who recovered from COVID-19 have sufficient antibody reactions to ensure immunity from a second infection. This does not mean that resistance to COVID-19 cannot be achieved, but that the body has to produce a high antibody response to offer immunity.

Ho also debunked the myth that the methods used to combat the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak like mass vaccination back in 2002 to 2004 may also be applied against COVID-19. Effective vaccines and antiviral drugs have yet to be successfully developed and deemed safe for use against the new virus. She emphasized, “We always compare COVID-19 with SARS [which only lasted] a few months before [totally disappearing]. COVID-19 is different—and so we must think differently.”  

Tales from an experienced city

Taiwan has been universally praised for implementing quick, systematic, and effective measures against the outbreak.

Tai-Chu Chou, a spokesperson for  the Taipei City Government, described Taiwan as “well-equipped”, highlighting that the nation has over 20,000 hospitals and medical clinics at par with international standards to deal with the pandemic. The country also has a “superior low-cost and well-organized national health insurance system” for its citizens, he added. 

Aside from closing off the country’s borders, Ho attributed Taiwan’s relative success in dealing with COVID-19 to the government’s ability to build mutual trust with its citizens by “temporarily banning the exportation of surgical masks and prioritizing its citizens, while also lowering costs to an equitable price.”

Taipei’s local government first, Chou said, “strictly monitored” those under home quarantine before setting up quarantine facilities as part of their standard operating procedures (SOPs). Aside from providing subsidies and financial support to its citizens, Taipei also allowed food stores and drugstores to continue operating—provided that physical distancing measures were observed. 

“Taxis and ambulances are utilized to transport people attending to their health and medical needs, while hotels serve as isolation institutions for the quarantined and their families,” Chou disclosed some of Taipei’s “creative measures” to combat the ongoing outbreak. In addition, village chiefs are assigned to monitor home quarantine measures in their respective areas, and educational institutions have suspended face-to-face classes—encouraging remote learning modes instead. 

The SOPs set in place were also adopted by other cities in Taiwan and eventually garnered interest from scientists and governments in other nations. Believing in success through global collaboration, Chou reasoned that countries around the world continually look for the best practices to respond effectively to the COVID-19 crisis.

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