Taiwan has earned plaudits for its management of the pandemic, but some individuals are still finding loopholes in their strict pandemic measures – and suffering harsh penalties.
On Monday, local authorities tracked down a 30-year-old tutor in the second largest city Taichung, who allegedly lied about his activities to contact tracers after he tested positive for Covid-19 on July 12.
The tutor allegedly travelled to several districts in Taipei and New Taipei City at the end of June and had sex with five different people six times in five different hotels between July 2 and July 12. When confronted by authorities about his activity histories, the man claimed that he went to the hotels to “take baths by himself” and no one was with him during the hotel visits.
After determining that he had lied about his activity, local authorities decided to impose a fine of approximately £7827 pound on him. So far, health authorities have identified 74 people as his close contacts and one of them has tested positive while the other 59 tested negative.
Taiwan has adopted a thorough contact tracing mechanism: once a person tests positive, local health authorities will begin to ask them to provide a detailed history of their recent activities and contacts and a complete history of where the particular case has been. It is then made public for anyone who have been to those areas so they are aware of the possible risks of being exposed to someone with Covid.
Chi Chunhuei, Director of the Center for Global Health at Oregon State University in the US, said Taiwan’s tough penalties for violating Covid restrictions can be a problem: it can both serve as a deterrent or encourage people to find loopholes in the protocols.
“By and large, I think people who attempt to violate the strict measures are the minority in Taiwan,” he told The Independent. “The majority of Taiwan’s population is highly cautious about their own safety and the safety of their community.”
On Monday, Taiwan’s Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said while the nationwide pandemic alert level could be lowered on July 26, restrictions will be lifted in a gradual fashion. “We have observed that in some countries, cases surge rapidly when restrictions are lifted,” he said during the daily pandemic press conference.
Prior to the worst domestic outbreak that began on May 15, Taiwan had less than 2000 cases since the start of the pandemic. Its success in containing the spread of the virus has been named “the Taiwan model” and countries around the world were constantly referring to it as a positive example.
However, some loopholes in Taiwan’s quarantine policies for airline staff and relaxed domestic measures led to a sharp increase in the number of domestic cases, with more than 13,000 domestic cases being recorded since May 15. Strict pandemic prevention measures imposed across the country over the last two months have gradually brought the number of daily cases down from three digits to two digits.
“One of the factors that is instrumental to Taiwan’s ability to contain its worst domestic outbreak without enforcing a total lockdown is the government’s swift and effective decision-making and policies,” said Chi Chunhuei.
Apart from relying on contact tracing and testing, Chi said the biggest difference in Taiwan’s pandemic control measures is the thorough quarantine for patients tested positive for Covid-19. “This is the critical step that the US and other western countries aren’t able to take and Taiwan is able to implement it successfully,” he told The Independent.
However, Chi expects the economic impact of the pandemic control measures over the last two months to be greater than last year. Among various sectors in Taiwan, the food and lodging sectors are experiencing the harshest blow as business owners call on the government to offer more subsidies.
Around 60 percent of Taiwan’s hotels have voluntarily ceased operation while others have been converted into quarantine hotels, according to Cheng Sheng-chang, the spokesperson of Taiwan’s hotel association. “I can’t describe how awful the situation is now. Basically we’re on life support,” he told the Central News Agency in Taiwan.
Despite the hardship faced by some sectors, experts think Taiwan’s health authorities have avoided imposing a total lockdown.
“Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center has adopted the pandemic control measures that aim at containing the spread of the virus without inflicting too much disruption to daily life in Taiwan,” said Yen Wei-Ting, an assistant professor at Franklin & Marshall College in the U.S., who has been studying pandemic-related policies in Taiwan and other Asian countries. “The result proves that their policies are effective.”
As Taiwan’s domestic outbreak gradually subsides, Yen thinks it’ll be important to see whether the government decides to relax some of the strict measures or not over time.
“While autocratic governments often maintain the same level of restrictions even after they contain the outbreak, democratic countries need to constantly evaluate whether the restrictions are proportional to the situation in reality,” she told The Independent.
Chi thinks once Taiwan lifts some strict measures, the top priority for the government will be speeding up the vaccination rate, which is around 22.4% now. “Vaccine is the game changer so while the Taiwanese government can continue to use strict measures to combat outbreaks, those measures won’t end the pandemic,” he said.
“Once Taiwan relaxes the level of its protocols, the top priority will be speeding up vaccination,” Chi added.