Reflection on Taiwan’s Covid-19

This was written May 14th, 2020

Today is May 14, 2020. Taiwan, an island 77 miles away from mainland China, is on a 31 days streak of no confirmed local covid-19 cases and 440 past confirmed with over 375 release from quarantine and 7 deaths. This leaves Taiwan, one of the closest countries to China, with only 58 confirmed cases in a country with a population over 24 million. How did they manage to do so when most parts of the world are under the threat and impact of this novel coronavirus? How did the government successfully save the people on the island from covid-19 threat ? How did the Taiwanese contain this contagious disease with only less than 500 cases?

While the world is still slowly waking up to the rapid spread of coronavirus from central China, Taiwan has been taking measures to prevent and resolve this public health crisis. Why? As a Taiwanese, I could tell you a million reasons from historically, politically, geographically, or culturally that contribute as factors to why we are instantly alert to this crisis. While we could evaluate the current efficiency of the government, quality of the healthcare system, or engagement of the citizens, one of the root reasons that the world should not neglect is SARS. Back in 2003, when severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) hit globally, Taiwan was among the worst countries that were impacted by SARS. If you ask any Taiwanese what happened to Taiwan during SARS, ten out of ten would tell you it was a shared nightmare, a scare, between all the Taiwanese in 2003. It was a scar that will never heal. Lives of Taiwanese were left on pause for three months.

The most notable event during SARS is the Taipei Peace Hospital. The government declared a lockdown of the hospital out of the blue, over a thousand people were quarantined in the hospital. Some people who were only there for a visit were also under quarantine without any notice, some tried to escape through the hospital’s windows, some were seeking government’s rescue. There was an uproar in the society when the government declared the lockdown. Strikingly, there was a 48 year-old man who chose to hang himself to death due to his fear of spreading SARS to his family. He wrote in his suicide letter “I know I can’t pass [this]”. He did not mention SARS, and he was not confirmed with SARS. Yet, the pressure in the Taiwanese society at that time set forth such a mentality of pure fear of spreading to others which leads to tragedies like this.

The chinese government concealed the SARS epidemic when it first occurred, and taiwanese people were hit without precautions. Since then, Taiwan’s history with SARS has cast an infinite shadow over how Taiwanese respond to future potential outbreaks. The fact that Taiwanese lack access to WHO data and professional assistance kept us safe in this pandemic. Taiwanese government has gone through reforms structurally and psychologically. First, the government no longer believes in the words of Chinese government during a pandemic, we trust our own gut and predictions in coronavirus. When China and World Health Organization(WHO) were still telling the world to not panic or stress over the new covid-19 virus, when the governments are still telling citizens “wearing mask” is unnecessary, when the press are still framing citizen’s concerns as “overreaction to this so called covid-19 flu”, Taiwanese people have already tighten up their nerves from SARS lesson.

Carrying the idea of psychological transformation, the Taiwanese civil obedience to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) during such desperate times creates an invisible protection umbrella for the country. We social distance, we wear masks, we avoid crowds, we sanitize our hands, we honestly report uncomfortableness, we stay tuned to the newest update of covid-19, we choose to not panic. This “we” is our manifestation of civic engagement and it collaterally facilitates positive results. Structurally, on the other hand, our health care has gone through a great reform after the SARS. There are three key parts to healthcare reform. First, the medical center is no longer serving the purpose of the clinic but for research and development purposes. It covers planning the entire medical system enhancement to precaution measures to contagious disease. Second of all, the referral clinic system avoids possible waste of medical resources and puts an end to patients that stroll in hospitals to take advantage of the healthcare system. Lastly, the avoidance of profitalization for hospitals. The government sets a standard for the price that patients should pay while the majority goes back to the government’s medical fund.

So what has Taiwan been doing since our soon recovery from the covid-19 crisis? Our national academic sinica has been researching cure and vaccine for covid-19. We developed a screening that only takes 15 minutes to diagnose if you are positive for covid-19. We have been sharing data and information about coronavirus to other countries. We have donated over seven millions masks to Europe, over three millions to the United States, and many more. We provide medical and technical assistance regarding protection and precaution measures towards covid-19. Taiwan can help.

Despite how Chinese authorities are letting those doctors and healthcare workers that were the first wave of whistle-blowers of coronavirus “disappear”and fake their numbers of confirmed cases or how serious the pandemic was, WHO chose to stand hand-in-hand with China in concealing the health crisis. As an observer, I grew my respect to government officials around the world who stood up and pointed out how corrupted or unjust the entire act was in between China and WHO. Before the coronavirus tremendously hits every parts of the world, most of the countries are taking economic benefits from China alongside taking in all the shady inhumane acts it has done. As an optimistic Taiwanese who has been oppressed by Chinese government since birth, I was hoping the adults in power would go against such suppression. However, growing up, I have seen otherwise. I witnessed the world slowly but surely engulfed by Chinese economic power piece by piece. No matter if it is us losing allies due to China signing a bigger check to our diplomatic countries or politicians in office being taken down by their government due to their public remarks or stance against China, Taiwanese people are going to come out of this epidemic stronger and united than ever. Beijing blocking Taiwan’s connection to the world will never stop, neither will we stop fighting for our rights.

As a reader, who might not be one of those 24 million Taiwanese, what can you do? Through microaggression of our civic engagement in exercising our rights to vote, we are molding the people we want to be in office, we are creating a society we hope our next generation lives in. Don’t we ever forget the hard-learned lessons from covid-19, and these scars should always be remembered like how SARS did to Taiwan. We should stay attentive to global conversation. Self-informed and self-taught in news and our awareness and participation in fighting for human rights and equality. I am confident the world will slowly but steadily recast and counteract from making similar mistakes like covid-19.

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A undergraduate student studying Computer Science and Data Science at New York University