A woman enters a Covid-19 testing booth outside the Yangji hospital in Seoul. Photograph: Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images

Containing COVID-19 – Lessons from South Korea and Taiwan

新冠病毒防護措施 - 韓國和台灣案例分析

April 27, 2020

Arthur Liao, SFU Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies Research Assistant

*Mandarin Chinese version follows.

The impact of the highly infectious Novel Coronavirus, resulting in the disease of COVID-19, has been global. State authorities have responded in different ways, some more effectively and successfully than others. Results have depended on several factors, including efficiency, availability of resources, transparency, and the level of trust between state and society.  Nevertheless, as WHO (World Health Organization) official and Canadian Physician, Dr. Bruce Aylward, told CTV News, because “the virus spreads so rapidly, the steps countries take to flatten the curve need to be equally as aggressive.” But what are those needed steps? The remarkable success of South Korea and Taiwan in flattening the curve provides valuable answers. This article looks at the measures adopted by these two countries and how they helped contain the spread of the virus.

1)   South Korea

Both South Korea and the United States confirmed their first cases of COVID-19 around the same two-day period - Jan 20, 2020, for South Korea, Jan 21, 2020, for the United States. Yet, the approaches taken by both countries to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are drastically different. The significant drop in the infection cases for COVID-19 in South Korea is due to the fast intervention of the government and civilians.

I. Early Vigilance

Even before the first confirmed case in South Korea on Jan 20, 2020, South Korean Biotech company Seegene had begun the development of testing kits on January 16  in anticipation of an outbreak. And within days, detection kits were developed. One week after the first case of confirmed COVID-19 in South Korea, government officials met with several medical companies to immediately develop test kits for mass production. Before February 18, South Korea had recorded a total of 30 cases and no deaths. That slow increase in infections soon changed.

II. Mass Testing

With South Korea’s confirmation of its 31st COVID-19 case on Feb 18 in the city of Daegu, the nation’s infection rate suddenly multiplied within a two-week span., The individual known as Case 31 had taken part in a mass religious congregation and other events, and passed the virus onto unsuspecting residents of Daegu. As the virus spread wider, medical experts were diagnosing more than 900 new cases a day, making South Korea the second-largest outbreak in the world at the time. Authorities quickly established 600 testing centres, with testing taking 10 minutes at most and the results usually on the next day through mobile text. These  frequently administered tests have also helped to catch asymptomatic COVID-19 patients, enabling tracing and quarantining of infected citizens. South China Morning Post explains this mass testing in its brief 2 minute video.

III. Isolation and Contact Tracing

In the case that the test comes back positive, the individual is then required to go into isolation in government shelters, with their phones and credit card data traced for previous movements, As this New York Times article explains:“When someone tests positive, health workers retrace the patient’s recent movements to find, test — and, if necessary, isolate — anyone the person may have had contact with, a process known as contact tracing.”

IV. Technology and Surveillance

In combination with mass testing and quarantine, the South Korean government has also created a GPS-enabled app to monitor those under quarantine and to set off an alarm to the police if they venture outdoors. Violators are given fines by the government. Furthermore, travelers entering the country are asked to record their health status on a state-sponsored app. In addition, people who are self-isolating, including those who have yet to test positive, each receive 454,900 won a month to cover basic living expenses. Many private businesses have also been taking their own precautionary procedures. For example, restaurants check the temperatures of their customers before accepting them, and offices, hotels, and other large privately owned buildings use thermal image cameras to identify people with fevers.

2)   Taiwan

The first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Taiwan on Jan 21, 2020, also the same day as the United States. Yet, the trajectory of the two areas has been extremely different. With a significant number of Taiwanese working in China and the high frequency of flights and travelers between the two areas (2.7 million tourists visited from China last year),  COVID-19 outbreaks in Taiwan were a matter of time. Yet Taiwan acted swiftly and effectively, containing early on COVID-19 outbreaks on the Island.

I. Getting Ready: the CDC of Taiwan

 Following the 2004 SARS outbreak, additional resources were already set aside for the establishment of the National Health Command Center (NHCC) by Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to aid specifically in disaster management for epidemics. As soon as news from Wuhan began to emerge in December 2019, authorities in Taiwan began to prepare for a potential outbreak. On December 31, 2019, Centers for Disease Control in Taiwan implemented inspections measures on all inbound flights from Wuhan in response to a report for an unidentified infected passenger; once the plane had arrived in Taiwan, all passengers were inspected by health officials. And by January 5 2020, the Taiwan CDC began monitoring all individuals who had travelled to Wuhan within 14 days and exhibited a fever or symptoms.  Those testing positive were quarantined. By January 20, 2020, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) under NHCC was activated, mobilizing government funds and the military to facilitate surgical mask production.

II. Aggressive Border Measures and Rationing of PPE

Following the first confirmed case on the island on Jan 21, 2020, the Taiwanese authorities announced a temporary ban on the export of surgical masks to secure a supply of masks for its own residents. Surgical face masks were then released by a mask rationing system instituted by the government to prevent individuals from overstocking face masks. This DW’s video discusses Taiwan's PPE rationing measures. From February 6 to 11, successive measures were placed to temporarily halt all direct and transfer flights traveling through or from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau. In addition, all visitors to Taiwan since March 19, 2020 have had to be in mandatory home quarantine for 14 days, and required to download a GPS enabled application  tracked by authorities.This PBS News Hour’s 7 minute video explains the quarantine measure in brief details.

III. Quarantine and Big Data

Authorities in Taiwan implemented smart phone technology in conjunction with rationing of surgical masks, and strict border policies to contain the spread of COVID-19. So-called ‘electronic fence,’ monitors phone signals, and gives alerts to the police and local officials if individuals in home quarantines moved away from their address or turned off their phones, with authorities responding by contacting, or visiting those who trigger an alert within 15 minutes. Officials also call twice a day to ensure people do not avoid tracking by leaving their phones at home. In addition,  immigration data has been integrated with the local health care system to track individuals' travel history. This Global News Video explains the additional big data integration measures taken by Taiwan.

SARS, MERS and Lessons from History

The success of South Korea’s containment of Covid-19 is tied to lessons learned from the SARS and MERS outbreaks in 2002 and 2012 respectively, during which South Korea developed tools and practices for aggressive contact tracing. Health officials were retracing patients’ movements using security camera footage, credit card records, even GPS data from their cars and cellphones. As South Korea's foreign minister, Kang Kyung-wha, told BBC news, lessons learned from previous outbreaks allowed the development of testing for COVID-19 even before the country had a significant number of cases, thus leading to a dramatic drop in new cases.

In Taiwan’s case, its handling of the outbreak has received international praise for its effectiveness in quarantining citizens , in using the "electronic fence", as well as in the early procurement and rationing of PPE to prevent shortage. The memories of SARS which ultimately took the lives of 181 out of 668 (27% fatality) infected patients, has kept both the Taiwanese authorities and its peoples vigilant about the COVID-19 outbreak.

KEY STEPS behind Successful Containment

  1. Mass testing, and as early as possible
  2. Strict border measures and restrictions on local mobility
  3. Transparency of information
  4. Procurement and rationing of medical supplies (PPE and COVID-19 testing kits)


高度傳染性的新型冠狀病毒的爆發導致COVID-19全世界的病發,許多不同地區採取了不同的應對方式,其中一些防護措施比其他方式更有效和成功。結果取決於幾個因素,包括效率,資源的可用性,透明度和國家與社會之間的信任程度。不過,正如WHO(世界衛生組織)官員和加拿大醫師Bruce Aylward博士對CTV新聞說 “病毒傳播如此之快,各國為平緩曲線所採取的步驟也必須同樣具有侵略性”。但是,這些步驟是什麼?韓國和台灣在拉平曲線方面所取得的顯著成就提供了寶貴的答案。本文將描述於這兩個範例採取所遏制病毒傳播的關鍵。




一 - 早期警惕

早在2020年1月20日韓國首次確診病例之前,韓國生物技術公司Seegene就已於1月16日爆發疫情預期,開始開發測試套件。幾天之內,開發了檢測套件。在韓國首例確診的COVID-19病例一周後,政府官員會見了幾家醫療公司立即大規模生產的測試套件。 2月18日之前,韓國共記錄了30例病例 (但沒有死例)。

二 - 大規模測試

由於韓國於2月18日在大邱市確認了第31例COVID-19病例,該國的感染率在兩週內突然成倍增長並將病毒傳播給大邱毫無戒心的居民。隨著病毒傳播範圍的擴大,醫學專家每天要診斷900多個新病例,使韓國成為當時世界第二大疫情區域。當局很快建立了600個測試中心,測試最多花費10分鐘,結果通常在第二天通過手機短信發送。這些經常進行的檢測還有助於捕獲無症狀的COVID-19患者,從而能夠追踪和隔離受感染的公民。 《南華早報》在簡短的2分鐘視頻中解釋了這項大規模測試

三 - 隔離和接觸跟踪


四 - 預防措施技術與監控




一 - 準備措施:台灣疾病預防控制中心

 2004年SARS爆發後,台灣疾病控制中心(CDC)已撥出更多資源用於建立國家健康指揮中心(NHCC),專門用於流行病的災難管理。 2019年12月,來自武漢的消息開始浮出水面,台灣當局開始為可能爆發的疫情做好準備。 2019年12月31日,台灣疾病預防控制中心對從武漢出發的所有入境航班實施了檢查措施,以回應一名身份不明的受感染旅客的報告; 飛機抵達台灣後,衛生官員對所有乘客進行了檢查。到2020年1月5日,台灣疾病預防控制中心開始監控所有在14天內到武漢旅行並出現發燒或症狀的個人。那些測試呈陽性的人被隔離。到2020年1月20日,NHCC下的中央流行病指揮中心(CECC)啟用,動員政府資金和軍隊促進外科口罩的生產。

二 - 邊境措施和個人防護裝備的配給


三 - 隔離和大數據




以台灣為例,其對疫情的處理在隔離居民,使用“電子圍欄”以及在早期採購和配給個人防護設備以防止短缺方面的有效性得到國際讚譽。 SARS的記憶最終導致668名(27%死亡)感染患者中的181人喪生,這使台灣當局及其人民對COVID-19爆發保持警惕。


  1. 儘早的進行大規模測試
  2. 嚴格的邊境措施和對當地流動性的限制
  3. 信息的透明性建立了政府與公眾之間的信任
  4. 採購和配給醫療用品(PPE和COVID-19測試套件)