Editor’s note: The Economist is making some of its most important coverage of the covid-19 pandemic freely available to readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. To receive it, register here. For more coverage, see our coronavirus hub
SPARE A MOMENT and admire Taiwan. Its handling of the new coronavirus pandemic has so far saved many, many lives. The figures tell the story. A country of 24m, it has far fewer infections than its neighbours: just 235 as of March 25th, with only two deaths.
Taiwanese officials seem to know what they are doing. The vice-president, Chen Chien-jen, is a noted epidemiologist and former health minister. It helps that the country has had a system in place to handle such crises, since the SARS epidemic of 2003, which led to 73 deaths. Back then, it was not clear who was in charge. So in 2004 the government set up the Central Epidemic Command Centre (CECC). Usually dormant, in an emergency its mandate is to work across government departments and commandeer the resources it needs. On January 20th President Tsai Ing-wen triggered the CECC and put the minister of health, Chen Shih-chung, in charge.
Its response was swift, and ranged from screening...