The price Taiwan has to pay with the ‘no Covid’ strategy

The “no Covid” strategy helped Taiwan maintain a normal life for 18 months, but when most of the world opened up, the island remained entrenched.

At a beach bar on the southernmost tip of the island of Taiwan, a few tourists wearing swimsuits, barefoot and drinking beer, enjoy a warm midweek evening in the desert.

The owner said that domestic tourists are flocking to this seaside village. However, they only focus on weekends. There were no international visitors to fill the week’s vacancies, not to mention the need to make up for three difficult months of closure due to the Covid-19 outbreak over the summer.

The owner also complained about business being affected by problems with the supply chain, which prevented her from buying basic ingredients like mayonnaise and tortillas. “It’s crazy. I haven’t been able to find them for the past three months,” she said.

In the first 18 months since the outbreak of Covid-19, life in Taiwan has remained safe, vibrant and almost normal, while other cities around the world have recorded zero infections and deaths. stop growing.

Taiwan’s secret is its “no Covid” strategy, which includes measures to ban entry, strict quarantine, active tracing and mandatory mask wearing. As a result, the island records relatively low numbers, with the total number of infections and deaths now at more than 16,000 and more than 800, respectively.

But now that the rest of the world is beginning to open up, accept the virus, and reduce harm with high vaccination rates, there is little sign that Taiwan will end its strategy of once and for all. help them succeed. This entrenched mentality is expected to have severe consequences for the economy and the public.

A woman queues at a nCoV test point in Taipei City, Taiwan Island, on May 18.  Photo: AP.

A woman queues at a nCoV test point in Taipei City, Taiwan Island, on May 18. Photo: AP.

Entry restrictions affect international tourism, hindering trade and exacerbating problems with supply chains. Airmail service to and from certain locations has been suspended. Many families suffer separation, livelihoods are damaged.

“Not being with the one you love is really painful,” said Clement Potier, a French citizen living in Taiwan whose partner is stuck abroad.

In 2019, Taiwan recorded more than 29 million international visitors to the island. A year later, during the height of the pandemic and before a vaccine was available, that number dropped to 3.9 million. To date, only 335,000 international visitors have come to Taiwan in 2021.

“How long can they maintain this strategy? There will be a price to pay. Taiwan has sacrificed international cooperation in trade and exchange,” said Professor Chunhuei Chi, director of the global medical center from Oregon State University in the US, said.

In July, the Bureau of Economic Intelligence assessed that the “no Covid” strategy used in Asia “provided both health and economic benefits”. “If the whole world took a similar approach, this might prove to be a sustainable strategy, but it’s not. It will become unfeasible as the global economy reopens.” , the organization’s report contains paragraphs.

Some international enterprises located in Taiwan have begun to consider the possibility of moving production facilities, because it is not known when the restrictive measures will be eased, no clear roadmap has been presented to the people. people.

The main factor that keeps the Taiwanese authorities closed is the difficult Covid-19 vaccination campaign, especially the second dose. Many people getting the Moderna vaccine have had their second dose delayed by at least 12 weeks, while the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a 28-day interval.

Inadequate vaccine orders, and a global shortage of vaccines make Taiwan’s vaccination program largely dependent on vaccines donated from other parts of the world, but this supply is unstable. . Recently the island also used self-developed vaccines.

About 73% of Taiwanese residents have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, with the highest rate among the elderly, but just over a third of the population getting a second dose. The Taiwanese government says it is still on track to achieve its goal of raising the full injection rate to 60% by the end of the year. Once that milestone is reached, they will consider a policy change.

Professor Chi assessed that politics is also a factor that makes Taiwan continue to “closed in seclusion”. Due to the upcoming local elections, he said that the ruling Democratic Progressive Party did not want to rush to open the door, because if the epidemic broke out again, the opposition Kuomintang party would have an excuse to criticize the government.

In September, Taiwan’s Epidemiological Command Center (CECC) said a “no Covid” strategy was not their goal, but the reality showed that the island was moving in this direction. Last month, when asked if Taiwan’s plan is to “no Covid” or live with the pandemic, health agency leader Tran Thoi Trung answered ambivalently.

“The current goal is to achieve a Covid-free state, but Taiwan must also prepare to live with Covid-19,” he said, adding that the authorities were hoping the epidemic would gradually become less severe.

“We have to wait until the epidemic weakens and the human immune system can adjust before starting to live with the virus,” said Professor Lee Ping-ing, CECC special adviser.

Observers say the level of public readiness is the key issue in the short term if Taiwan reopens. The task is to push back against the overwhelming fear of Covid-19 and the severe stigma against those infected with the virus.

“Even if 70% of Taiwan’s population is fully vaccinated, people will still be nervous at the thought of reopening,” one Taiwanese resident commented on social media.

Professor Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS Research Institute in the UK, said he understood why the Taiwanese authorities were slow to respond, but assessed that they “will have to accept that now we have to live with Covid-19 and the ‘no Covid’ strategy is not sustainable”.

“Taiwan may need more time to increase vaccination rates before significantly easing travel restrictions, but authorities should provide clear criteria for this route,” Tsang said.

Luster (Follow Guardian)

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