Tsai Ing-wen: Containing Covid with Technology

As the second nation in the three-part series investigating successful leaders and Coronavirus strategies; we look into Taiwan and its President, Tsai Ing-wen’s meticulous response.

A small island off the coast of mainland China with a population of 23 million, Taiwan has long sought independence from its hegemonic neighbour. However, while Western powers do not yet recognise Taiwan as an independent country, Taiwan has prevailed in the face of the global pandemic. As of 21 September, there has been a total of 509 Coronavirus cases with only seven deaths, an astoundingly small number in comparison to other advanced nations.

Tsai’s approach of uniting Taiwan’s leading technology industry with the country’s private sector has been triumphant in curbing the virus.

Tsai Ing-wen
Taiwan Presidential Office@Flickr.com

Yet what exactly is Tsai Ing-wen’s winning strategy?

One of the reasons for Taiwan’s success has been preparedness. The nation suffered badly from the SARS outbreak in 2003 that killed hundreds globally, lending to Taipei’s officials being on standby in case of another pandemic. As soon as increased cases of Coronavirus were reported, Taiwan set up a Central Epidemic Command Centre (CECC) on January 21, a government-run centre made up of health care experts and strategists that has coordinated all Covid-19 logistics.

Through the CECC, Tsai has harnessed technology and data analytics to communicate with her citizens and create an impressive track and trace system. Under the guidance of digital minister, Audrey Tang and collaboration with tech companies HTC and LINE, Taiwan has integrated patient health records with contact-tracing software. This has allowed healthcare officials to know when to test vulnerable patients or those who have travelled from or through highly infected countries.

In addition, the app VTaiwan has been developed to allow for ‘bottom up’ communication from the citizens to government officials, offering a platform for ideas to improve the country’s Coronavirus response. Some of the public’s suggestions have been successfully implemented, such as the recent app update that lets the user know where to locally purchase face masks and how much stock is available.

With face masks seen to be an effective means of minimising the spread of Coronavirus, Tsai’s government quickly took over the production and distribution of medical-grade masks in February 2020. This has prevented mass buying and ensured enough supply is available for both the public and health services. As part of this collaborative logistical operation deemed ‘Team Taiwan’, technology experts developed a system that united medical officials, pharmacies, and convenience stores to help ration masks carefully.

Tsai Ing-wen
Taiwan Presidential Office@Flickr.com

What can we learn from these innovative and tech-savvy measures?

A key takeaway from Tsai Ing-wen and Jacinda Ardern’s responses is the need to maintain civic trust and allow the public to engage in the government’s plans. Like Ardern’s Facebook check-in’s, the VTaiwan app provides a necessary space for two-way communication that many Western nations still haven’t adopted. Furthermore, by utilising the nation’s strengths such as its advanced technology and health experts, Taiwan has managed to stay ahead of the curve with few deaths and little economic impact.

Due to Taiwan’s political situation, it has been refused membership of the UN and the World Health Organisation. However, perhaps as the world watches Tsai Ing-wen’s strength of leadership as she independently governs and guides Taiwan away from a national crisis, the global superpowers will finally offer Taiwan a seat at the table and unite in the fight against Coronavirus.