Taiwan owes its success largely to the emergency implementation of large analytical data and new technologies.
Taiwan is only a few kilometers off the coast of mainland China and was expected to have the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in 2019 (Covid-19) due to its proximity and the number of flights between China. And yet, we forgot about Italy. If someone who has never seen a global map were to be given the data from Taiwan and from Italy, and then was asked to guess which one was closest to the outbreak’s epicenter in China, that person might conclude that Italy would be where Taiwan actually is, and vice versa.
Taiwan is one of the very few places (along with Singapore and Hong Kong) to avoid strong repercussions for its citizens, despite the fact that many still work and reside in China. Taiwan owes its success largely to the emergency implementation of data analysis and new technologies.
Let’s start from the beginning. The epidemic first broke out in China just before the Lunar New Year, during which millions of people took holiday trips, both within China as well as to neighboring countries. Other cases began to be identified around the world, usually only a few at a time, though there were some clusters (in South Korea, for example).
Taiwan learned from the previous SARS epidemic and Taiwan’s government reacted quickly with appropriate measures. The National Health Command Center (NHCC) was established as a disaster management center and served as an operational command point. The actions carried out by Taiwan were, in particular, air and sea border control, case identification using new data and technology, education of the public while combating misinformation, and policy formulation for schools and businesses.
Taiwan has leveraged its national health insurance database and integrated it with its immigration and customs database to begin creating large data sets for analysis; it has generated real-time alerts during a clinical visit based on travel diaries and clinical symptoms to help identify the case.
The extensive database made it possible to identify cases, generate real-time alerts, and take into account the person’s medical history based on previous events. The data analysis also took advantage of the travel ticket scan (QR code), making a statistic based on the origin of the flight and the total route over the last two weeks.
Researchers and engineers in Taiwan acted quickly together to create a management system for coordinating health and travel data, which made it easier for doctors to immediately check the patient’s travel history. This has helped with more accurate diagnosis and treatment of patients and ensured that they receive adequate medical care.
The combination of all this allowed the state to send an SMS as a pass to be shown at the border as a declaration of good health. Those in high-risk areas were quarantined and tracked down via their mobile phones.
Each city set up its own telephone lines so that the inhabitants could ask for information, avoiding line blocks that might have occurred had there been only a single government call center.
Taiwan managed to get ahead of the epidemic by creating a physical command center to facilitate rapid communications. The command center fixed the price of medical masks, and used government funds and military personnel to increase the production of masks. Also, when the epidemic began, Taiwan had the foresight to organize the production of a large number of masks, capable of setting up 60 mask production lines.
The government worked quickly with local technology research institutes and the machine and smart automation sectors to increase the production of templates to meet the needs of the domestic market. Hoarding is not allowed, nor is there any need for it. The government has created an online map that shows exactly which pharmacy has the number of masks available, so you don’t have to queue or fight against other buyers to get a mask. This system for buying face masks was devised by Audrey Tang, Taiwan’s self-taught “hacktivist” minister of digital technology.
Here a TEDx speech of Audrey Tang about Digital Social Innovation to Empower Democracy.
At the same time, Taiwan has implemented active surveillance and screening systems such as infrared thermal imaging scanning (ITIS) in all major airports and ports.
A look to China
In China, on the other hand, algorithms have been used to estimate the probability that a particular neighborhood or even an individual had exposure to Covid-19 by matching the location of smartphones to known locations of infected individuals or groups. Authorities use this information to target testing for the virus to high-risk individuals identified by the artificial intelligence algorithm. The country’s largest telephone operator, China Mobile, has shared the travel data of its virus-affected user with some media: from the train they took to the subway or supermarket. And this has served to track the possibility of infection in certain cities.
“I think Covid-19 has exposed the strength and the weakness of each geographical region’s health, social and political systems,” said Junko Yoshida, global co-editor in chief for AspenCore Media.
The epidemic in Italy came as a surprise to some people. The northern regions of Lombardy, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna were the most affected by the epidemic. Italy, however, also has a higher-than-average mortality rate; Covid-19 has proven more deadly to the elderly and Italy has one of the oldest populations in the world. Pollution in northern Italy could be a factor in increasing the mortality rate. The high concentration of PM10 makes the respiratory system more susceptible to complications due to the coronavirus. The higher the exposure to PM10 and constant over time (as for the elderly), the higher the probability that the respiratory system is weakened and prone to coronavirus complications.
One thing to do is to immediately integrate the technology used by all these countries to effectively counteract the coronavirus, as well as take immediate Lockdown measures for all other European and American countries, in order to avoid a new Italy. The technology is there, let’s implement it!