Covid-19: What went wrong in Singapore and Taiwan?


They’ve been hailed as virus success stories – places that have seen virtually zero or single-digit Covid cases since the start of the year.

But this month, Singapore and Taiwan have both seen a sudden and aggressive rise in cases – with Singapore logging 248 new cases just last week, and Taiwan 1,200 local infections.

Both places have gone into a heightened state of restrictions, limiting the size of social gatherings and closing schools.

By global standards, these numbers may seem small – but for these places, these figures would have been unthinkable just months ago. So what exactly went wrong?


A tale of complacency: Taiwan

Taiwan was among the first places to ban foreign visitors almost as soon as China reported the emergence of the virus – and these tough border restrictions still remain in place.

Locally however, the population started to become complacent – as did its government.

Hospitals stopped aggressively testing people for Covid, even those with a fever – a common symptom of the virus, according to Associate Professor Lin Hsien-ho of the National Taiwan University.

According to online publication Our World in Data, Taiwan was administering just 0.57 virus tests per 1,000 people in mid-Feb. This compared to Singapore’s rate of 6.21 and the UK’s rate of 8.68 at around the same period.

“There was a general assumption even with people showing symptoms that the probability of having Covid-19 was essentially zero,” Dr Lin told the BBC, adding that it stemmed from a belief that the virus could not break through Taiwan’s strong borders.

The variant first identified in India has prompted global concern — most notably in Britain, where it has more than doubled in a week, defying a sharp nationwide downward trend in infections.


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