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Coronavirus

Asian trio of Taiwan, Vietnam and Singapore keep COVID near zero

Strict quarantines and testing stamp out local transmission

Masked Taiwanese were able to take part in a New Year's celebration as the island kept the coronavirus at bay with rigorous testing.    © Reuters

SINGAPORE/TAIPEI -- Last month, Taiwan saw its first local infection in roughly eight months, bringing total local transmissions to 56.

The significantly lower numbers than neighboring countries and regions are the result of strict enforcement of the 14-day mandatory quarantine for travelers from overseas.

A Filipino migrant worker in Taiwan was fined 100,000 New Taiwan dollars ($3,577) last year for stepping out of his hotel room for eight seconds. The incident in November was captured on surveillance camera and received wide coverage in Taiwanese media.

As the world struggles with surging COVID-19 cases, Taiwan, along with Vietnam and Singapore, has succeeded in limiting local transmission to almost zero.

The Asian trio offers rare success stories in containing local transmission using rigorous testing and isolation.

Violators of the quarantine in Taiwan face fines of up to NT$1 million under special regulations enacted in February.

People with positive PCR tests must be hospitalized at the government's expense instead of recovering at home.

Vietnam goes a step further. In addition to a 14-day quarantine for entrants, it also discloses personal information on newly infected people -- such as age, occupation, place of residence and recent activities -- for quick tracing of close contacts. This tough response, possible thanks to authoritarian Communist Party rule, has been responsible for keeping cumulative cases down to roughly 1,500.

After battling unruly spikes in cases among migrant workers, Singapore has contained daily local transmissions to nearly zero these days through rigorous testing and tracing. The city-state, population 5.7 million, has conducted roughly 5.4 million tests. The government still requires testing every two weeks for foreign workers residing in dorms. Nearly 80% of the population has either the government's contact-tracing mobile app or a palm-sized tracking device.

Encouraged by reduced infection risk, Singapore relaxed some rules in late December, allowing up to eight patrons per table at restaurants rather than the previous five.

The SARS outbreak of 2003 provided a learning opportunity for Taiwan and Singapore. Taiwan has since increased hospital beds for isolation. Hospitals began training staffers in taking on patients and making other preparations last January, when the COVID-19 outbreak had just begun.

The challenge is addressing the risk of a new surge. After generally keeping the coronavirus in check, Thailand was hit by an outbreak of over 1,000 people linked to a seafood market near Bangkok in December. The country's total infections more than doubled over just two weeks, reaching about 9,000 as of Tuesday.

The majority of people in this cluster were market workers from Myanmar. Despite Thailand's strict entry restrictions, the virus apparently spread among those who entered illegally. New infections have been confirmed across the country, apparently transmitted from locals who were at the market, spurring fears of a broader resurgence.

Responding to the growing concerns, the Thai government moved Monday to tighten restrictions, ordering school closings and shorter business hours for 27 provinces and Bangkok. The capital also banned evening dining out, effective Tuesday.

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