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What explains why some countries have handled the covid-19 pandemic well and others have done poorly? It’s a complicated question, but if we look at the place that has arguably had the greatest success, the answer is failure.
Taiwan gets the gold medal for its coronavirus strategy. It has close ties with mainland China, where the disease originated, receiving almost 3 million visitors from there in a typical year. It is a densely populated land, and Taipei, the capital city, has crowded public transit. And yet, with a population of nearly 24 million, Taiwan has had just seven deaths. New York state, with a smaller population, has had 33,000.
Taiwan’s greatest asset turns out to be its failed response to a pandemic in 2003, SARS, which taught it many important lessons. SARS was a respiratory virus, less contagious than covid-19 but more deadly. SARS also came out of China, where authorities bungled the initial response and withheld information from the outside world. The Taiwanese were caught unprepared and made several mistakes. In the aftermath, they totally overhauled their pandemic preparedness procedures. They ensured they had adequate supplies of equipment on hand. They made plans to act early, smartly and aggressively.