The Role of Digital Tools in Taiwan’s Response to Covid-19

Nicholas Martin, 01 May 2020

Among the countries hit by Covid-19, Taiwan stands out for several reasons. Most importantly, Taiwan has managed to keep the number of infections and deaths very low, with 429 cases (as of 30 April) and 6 deaths in total, or 18 cases and 0.3 deaths per million inhabitants. This compares to 161,539 cases and 6467 deaths in Germany (1928 cases and 77 deaths per million).

This fortunate outcome was not obvious. Taiwan’s dense human and economic links and geographical proximity to China potentially set the stage for a rapid spread of Covid-19. Over 400,000 Taiwanese citizens work in China; the total number of Taiwanese in China likely numbers over 1 million, out of a national population of about 23.8 million.

Taiwan’s fortunate outcome is interesting also because the country implemented neither a lockdown nor mass testing.

This blog entry does not attempt a full account of how Taiwan managed to control Covid-19.[1] The aim is more limited: to explore the role of digital tools in Taiwan’s response, and if possible draw some first conclusions about the implications of the Taiwanese experience for current German and European debates.

For two reasons, Taiwan presents an interesting case study in this regard. Firstly, it is a highly digitised society. For instance, some 79% of the population uses a smartphone, and Taiwanese companies are key players in global ICT supply chains. Secondly, Taiwan is a vibrant democracy with robust civil liberties, rule of law, and an active and contentious civil society. Taiwan received a score of 93 (out of 100) in the annual rankings by Freedom House for 2019, comparable to Germany (94/100).

Taiwan’s use of digital tools to contain Covid-19 can be divided into four areas; linking databases to identify potential Covid-19 cases, contact tracing, quarantine surveillance, and monitoring of mobility patterns.