Covid Crisis in Taiwan

By: Sarah Yi — Editor-in-Chief

Taiwan went from a few Covid cases each day and living a normal life to a major Covid outbreak. While the rest of the world was flooded with daily Covid cases, this island had an early initial response and went nearly 250 days without a single case. Without thinking about the potential outbreak, Taiwan failed to prepare for its response or rollout of vaccines. 

Helen Davidson from The Guardian says Taiwan is “a victim of its own success.” The tables have turned and now Taiwan is the one in need of help and assistance. So far, there have been more than 11,000 cases and 260 deaths. The outbreak happened in Mid-May after many airline staff caught the virus and it spread across the island. 

Taiwan has only vaccinated 3% of its population of 23.5 million people. President Tsai Ing-wen says 750,000 vaccine doses from the US would arrive soon. Japan has also helped out and delivered more than 1.2 million doses to Taiwan. 

From the Academia Sinica genomics research centre, Professor Chen Chien-Jen says that authorities had the pandemic under control with their contact-tracing system and precision testing. “But we were challenged by the faster spread of the Alpha strain, first detected in the UK, and overwhelmed after a super spreader even on May 9th,” said Chen.

Chen was Taiwan’s health minister during the 2003 Sars outbreak and says “we thought maybe we could contain this at a small scale, but the virus is really vicious.”

“One of the issues is most people in Taiwan have been kind of spoiled,” said the director of Oregon State University’s centre for global health Professor Chi Chunhuei. Chi says that Taiwan lived 11 months of normal life, with four close calls, while the rest of the world was suffering. This left the community and the government “overconfident” in their abilities to contain outbreaks.

Another major factor that contributed to this outbreak of Covid was the community ignoring the warning of the virus spreading during Mother’s Day gatherings.

Finally, after 10 days of intense spreading of the virus, Taiwan ordered limiting gatherings, mandating public mask-wearing, and closing entertainment businesses and schools. Working-from-home arrangements were established but were not enforced. 

A Taiwan-based computational biologist at Academia Sinica Chase W Nelson says it was so distressing from a data analysis point of view. “I don’t think it makes things impossible but you have to be careful not to use the revised count in talking about trends because today will always be severely underestimated in comparison to yesterday,” said Nelson.

The director-general of the Global Taiwan Medial Alliance, and former national ombudsman Dr. Peter Chang says that he thinks the government started thinking seriously [about vaccines] too late. 
Chi says you have to assume anyone not living with you in the same household is a potential carrier of the virus. He says he thinks level 3 implements are strict enough but doesn’t think the government has clearly informed the public of how they can effectively protect themselves. “During the next two weeks or so, don’t have close indoor gatherings with people who don’t live with you,” said Chi.

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