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More than two million Chinese visited the island last year

More than two million Chinese visited the island last year

Hardly any other country was so endangered: the island republic is only 130 kilometers off the Chinese coast. Several hundred thousand Taiwanese live in the People’s Republic. More than two million Chinese visited the island last year. The connections are close. Nevertheless, Taiwan has not even counted 500 infections and six deaths: a top position out of 23 million Taiwanese people worldwide.

With its early and energetic response to the Sars-CoV-2 outbreak, Taiwan is now known as "Success story" praised. "Unlike virtually any other country in the world, Taiwan weathered the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic admirably well"notes Ryan Hass, an expert at Brookings’ think tank.

Taiwan warned WHO about the virus in vain

How did that happen? The first reports in December of puzzling pneumonia in the Chinese metropolis of Wuhan triggered the alarm on the island. The memory of the pandemic with the first Sars virus in 2003, which left 73 dead and hundreds infected in Taiwan alone, kept the authorities on guard.

Taiwan wrote to the World Health Organization (WHO) on December 31, when the Chinese authorities were still declining, addressing the risk of human-to-human transmission. The email was never answered. It was ignored, as US President Donald Trump says. He attacks the WHO, apparently to divert attention from his own failures in the USA.

Taiwan is not a member of WHO

Since the communist leadership regards democratic Taiwan as part of China, it cannot belong to the WHO. Between 2009 and 2016, it attended the annual World Health Assembly at least as an observer. But Beijing "puts politics before health"as critics say. After China-critical President Tsai Ing-wen took office in Taipei in 2016, Taiwan was completely excluded under pressure from Beijing.

The WHO bureaucracy even treats the island as part of the People’s Republic. With absurd effects: after a WHO warning at the height of the epidemic in China, countries such as Italy and Vietnam stopped their flights even to Taiwan, where there were only a few dozen cases at the time. Many Taiwanese were stranded abroad.

Taiwan responded immediately to the outbreak in China

On the day of the warning email to the WHO, Taiwan introduced fever controls for passengers from Wuhan. Three weeks later, residents of the Chinese metropolis were no longer allowed to enter. A command center specially created by the government after the Sars pandemic took over coordination in the fight against the virus. The production of face masks was ramped up and their distribution regulated. At the beginning of February the border was closed for all Chinese, in March also for almost all foreigners.

Passengers go at the main train station in Taipei: Infrared cameras are installed at the train station to measure body temperature. (Source: Yu-Tzu Chiu / dpa)

The early entry bans turned out to be effective. The authorities also immediately followed up and interrupted chains of infection and quarantined contacts. The public was informed of the risks and prevention through notices on television. The early intervention saved the Taiwanese from curfews like in other countries or one "Lockdown" the economy.

Everyday life in Taiwan has changed

WHO Emergency Relief Director Michael Ryan praises the island for it. "You have produced a very good public health response in Taiwan. You can see that in the numbers." Also exemplary is how the country is today "new normal" masters. This is what life could look like in other countries after a state of emergency until there is a vaccine. Mouth and nose protection is compulsory on buses, trains and trains. Taxi drivers can refuse passengers without a mask. People have to keep a distance of 1.5 meters indoors and one meter outdoors.argumentative essay climate change Restaurants move chairs and tables apart.

Meetings are allowed in rooms up to 100 people, up to 500 in the fresh air. Students’ temperature is measured every morning. There are fever controls and hand disinfectants at entrances to banks, post offices and shops. There are infrared devices at airports and train stations that automatically measure the temperature of passengers.

The quarantine controls are strict

Entrants – mostly only Taiwanese – have to spend two weeks at home in quarantine. At the airport, they have to hand over their smartphones so that the authorities can determine the GPS navigation signal. This will then track the person’s whereabouts for the next 14 days. "Epidemic Prevention Taxis"that are disinfected every time, take them to the quarantine location.

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If the GPS signal is interrupted – due to poor reception or if the cell phone battery is empty – the police are quickly at the door. Authorities call twice a day to make sure people are actually on their cell phones. Violations can be expensive: fines range from 100,000 to one million Taiwan dollars (the equivalent of 3,000 to 30,000 euros).

Sources used: dpa news agency

Anyone who tests positive for the coronavirus in Germany is a race against time. In the health authorities do themselves "Virus detectives" looking for those whom the infected person could have infected.

Every laboratory report can trigger the next major alarm and push your team to the limit. "An old people’s home, a refugee shelter. Preferably on Friday evening just before the weekend." Lutz Ehlkes (37) is sitting on the tenth floor of an unadorned office building at Düsseldorf Central Station. He is one of those coronavirus detectives who have been fighting the pandemic in every health department nationwide for weeks.

The view over Düsseldorf is great. But epidemiologist Ehlkes currently has little time to look out the window. "I’ve been working practically continuously since March", he says. With almost 50 colleagues in Düsseldorf, he is on the heels of the corona virus. "I would not have thought possible beforehand what overtime they tear off and show commitment."

Lutz Ehlkes, corona detective of the health department: "I’ve been working practically continuously since March." (Source: dpa)

When an infected person is called, it works according to a certain scheme: "We inform the tested people that they have become infected. Then we ask them how they are, whether they are experiencing symptoms, and make sure that they no longer walk around on the street. Later on, in a second call, we try to identify your contact persons in order to contact them and also to quarantine them"says Ehlkes.

In between, the infected are given about an hour to sort themselves out and think about who they were in contact with. Contact means: "15 minutes face to face – unprotected." Shorter body contact is sufficient, especially if bodily fluids are flowing: "A kiss – that’s it."

One of the first people infected had 100 contacts

The disease usually breaks out four to six days after being infected. Two days before the outbreak, the infected person becomes the carrier himself. Time passes from this point in time to the test result. Virus detectives are concerned with this period.

Single people and those with previous illnesses were called several times in the following days because the corona virus is treacherous: "We had cases that felt great – and the next day they were so bad that they couldn’t even call the ambulance."

"At first it was said: I was in Heinsberg at this carnival party. Then it was said: I was in Ischgl – that was ten cases in one day." One of the first people infected had 100 contacts. "That pretty much overran us. Everyone had to be informed and instructed that they are now in quarantine."

"Whoever does not want to be reached cannot be reached"

With very practical problems: "Who is still in the phone book today? Whoever does not want to be reached cannot be reached." Internet portals like LinkedIn would have achieved the goal in some cases. The team was hurriedly expanded. So-called containment scouts came, often medical students. Containment means containment.

At some point the fight seemed hopeless: "We had exponential growth in mid-March." But then the measures took effect and the numbers fell. "It worked great"says Ehlkes. Due to the disease control measures, the number of contact persons has decreased rapidly.

The "Super GAU"that is currently an infected resident of a nursing home or an infected patient in the cancer ward. "We then cut back on all employees in order to find the one who brought the virus in, otherwise everyone will be infected."

In the event of an outbreak in a refugee home, it helped to rent an empty hotel and get everyone out of the facility, to accommodate the infected person and their contact persons separately: "Nobody was infected anymore in the hotel."

The corona detective’s uniform: "That makes an impression – especially with people who don’t speak German." (Source: dpa)

When Ehlkes has to go out to the epidemic front, he wears a blue and yellow jacket – with four stars on it and the print: Public Health Authority. "That makes an impression – especially with people who don’t speak German."

It has long ceased to be a question of retrospectively tracing the chains of infection. "We couldn’t do that relatively early on." Now the only thing left to do is to contain the pandemic. 

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 Most are grateful for the call, understand the measures and put themselves in quarantine when the symptoms appear, but there are problem groups: "People who are afraid of losing their job, who go to work sick out of a false sense of duty"says Ehlkes. In addition, drug addicts or the mentally ill, not all of whom would have adhered to the requirements immediately.

The largest problem group, however, are the silent carriers without symptoms, who are not aware of their own infection and from whom the health department is not informed. They make up about half of those infected or even more, nobody really knows.

As with almost every epidemic, the socially disadvantaged are particularly at risk: "Cramped living conditions, common rooms – these are potential powder kegs." The first case in Düsseldorf, however, lived with his family in a large house: "He immediately withdrew to a granny flat and not even infected his family members."

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The epidemiologist worries that there could be a second wave in November – parallel to the flu wave. "A double infection is of course much more dangerous."

Sources used: dpa news agency

The Spanish flu killed millions of people, and autumn 1918 was its deadliest period. What lessons can we learn from the past in times of Corona?

They want to fight, fight against the Germans, as the ocean giant "Leviathan" set sail from New Jersey on September 29, 1918. They are thousands of American soldiers on their way to France towards the front. But their fight begins much earlier, soon after casting off. Men die in agony, horror reigns.

To their horror, the crew and soldiers are helpless because the enemy aboard the "Leviathan" is invisible: it’s a virus, tiny but deadly. The decks are littered with sick people, the floor is smeared with blood. The nurses can do little to alleviate the suffering of the sick and dying. "The groans and shouts of the frightened sick mingled confusedly with cries for help"A contemporary witness will later recall, quoted by the author Laura Spinney in her standard work "1918. The world in fever".

As the "Leviathan" finally reaching Brest, France, 2,000 men are seriously ill, around 90 are already dead. They are victims of the Spanish flu, more precisely, the second wave of this devastating pandemic, which is estimated to have killed nearly 50 million people by 1920 finish.

"A few hours before death comes"

Fever, headache and sore throat – these were the symptoms of the Spanish flu in the spring of 1918. At the time, it did not raise any particular fears; the death rate was not exceptionally high for the annual plague of mankind called influenza.

Canadian farmers with face masks in 1918: The Spanish flu required similar measures to the coronavirus. (Source: Dick Loek / imago images)

After this first wave, the second gradually followed in August 1918, and it encountered a world in turmoil. The war continued, millions of people were mobile, many often weakened by the hardships and stresses of warfare. The second wave announced itself with the same symptoms as the first: Its further course was much more fatal.

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"It only takes a few hours for death to come", the medic Roy Grist described what happened in a training camp of the US armed forces in September 1918. "It’s a struggle for air until they suffocate. It’s awful." When "heliotropic cyanosis" Doctors around the world described the most frightening effect of this wave: Soon after the outbreak, numerous sick people suffered from severe breathing problems.

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