Only the paranoid survive: 10 Lessons from Taiwan

By Frank Meehan, Serial Entrepreneur, Co-Founder of Equilibrium.World and Co-Founder Spraklabs

Only the paranoid survive! Why Taiwan has been successful handling the virus & lessons for world on what to do next time.

I've been in Taiwan practically since this started. Taiwan has 24 Million people. And 1 death so far. No cover up. The reasons that Taiwan has been so successful to date are more complex than just good hygiene and fast lockdown. I've written below some of key reasons why, and lessons that the world could learn from this, for next time....

1. Only the paranoid survive.

The title of one of the greatest business books of all time, by Andy Grove. Also, the way Taiwan has handled this from the start. After getting hit badly by SARS, Taiwan trusted no-one but themselves, and were paranoid about everything from overseas. Information, travellers etc. It worked.

Taiwan heard about the virus late December, like the rest of the world, and sent a team to Wuhan on the 12th Jan. What they saw there was enough for the team to put in place immediate actions, including their crisis action team led by Chen Shih-chung. Instead of taking things easy like the West, they were paranoid about everything. Lack of masks, testing equipment, visitors - and ramped up their response well before everyone else.

2. Do your own research

Taiwan enacted SARS like response and emergency teams very early on, as they didn't trust any of the news coming out of China. And still don't. It wasn't about trusting central government or not, because as the Chinese government found out, they couldn't trust their local government (Wuhan) information either. 

Lesson for the world: You have enough info these days to make your own decisions. Don’t rely on government information, which is often politicized and mis-informed.

3. They aren't in the WHO

China has always kept Taiwan out of WHO, and this time it was an advantage. In the early days of the pandemic, WHO was following China's direction, trying to keep a lid on information, and was very mindful of not upsetting China. Taiwan, who don't care, had to make their own decisions, without information from WHO. And that worked to their advantage.

Lesson for the world: Make your own mind up. Be conscious that global firms, banks and corporations have vested interests.

 4. Strong central government

In the US and UK, years of downsizing public health, police and education as left bare bones government infrastructure that can't cope in times like this. In contrast in Asia, strong central government, plus excellent public health and education systems, are keeping the spread, and mortality rates, low.

Lesson for the world: Maybe strong government, good public health and education systems are actually good for you!

5. Consistent information and education from government

Taiwan Gov hasn't played politics once. It has consistently just put out information, training, education every day for the population, and the population listened. They didn't ignore it and go out and party, they listened and followed, and berated anyone who didn't.

Lesson for the world: Next time, focus on central, consistent education and information

6. Temperature screening devices everywhere, including the underground.

Many countries put screening devices in at airports, but didn’t bother after that. Taiwan had them at entrances to train stations and major shopping areas, with isolation rooms nearby if someone had a high temperature. In those rooms were testing kits. If you tested positive an ambulance picked you up and took you straight to a designated hospital.

Lesson for the world: You can never do enough testing. Catch the spread and neutralize it quickly. 

7. A smart masks policy focused on stopping the spread

Masks work to contain the spread. It's not about protecting yourself. It's about stopping the spread. While people in the West concentrated on info about the effectiveness of masks stopping it for themselves, in Asia they thought about the collective, about everyone. Messages on the trains weren't about protect yourself, it was "wear a mask to stop infecting others". It's a subtle difference but it worked. Everyone wore them. And contained the spread.

To ensure a steady supply of masks, the government banned manufacturers from exporting them, put a rationing system in place, with centralized distribution plans, and set a very low price. They also assigned soldiers to staff factories, significantly increasing production.

Lesson for the world: With a virus, it's not about you getting infected, it's about infecting others. That's what stops the spread.

8. Anyone ignoring advice will pay for their own health care. Even citizens.

Now Taiwan will experience a second wave of infections, driven so far exclusively by travellers and people returning. Taiwan has been smart about this again, and said that anyone who travels from now on, and comes back with the virus will pay the total amount for the health care themselves. Even if they are a citizen. Highly effective at stopping anyone travelling or ignoring policies.

Lesson for the world right now: Maybe implement a similar policy in your country. Anyone ignoring your directives and infecting themselves can pay for their own health care.

9: Get public support and buy-in

The Taiwanese public trusted their government response, and also didn’t think they were immune like so many in the West. They supported the government, and helped out in every way they could. For example, more than 95 percent of Taiwanese parents take their child’s temperature at home and report it to the school before the children arrive, and every office bought temperature screening devices to screen people. Everyone took responsibility.

Lesson for the world: Get public support. They need to help, and not leave it to the government to do everything. 

10: Leave it to experienced experts

In the West too many governments relied on special advisors, or medical experts with no SARS or Ebola experience. They thought they knew better than the experts in China, Taiwan, Singapore and HK who had dealt with SARS.

They didn’t.

And thus the US and European governments were woefully underprepared and slow to react. That has been rectified, but never again should governments rely on advice from people who don’t have the requisite experience.

Lesson for the world: Leave it to the experts next time.

Thank you to Frank for this contribution 

Frank Meehan, Serial Entrepreneur, Co-Founder of Equilibrium.World and Co-Founder Spraklabs

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