by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: wpcpey/WikiCommons/CC
THE CENTRAL EPIDEMIC Command Center (CECC) reported another day of zero new COVID-19 cases in Taiwan today. The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Taiwan remains at 441, with 415 of those cases having recovered.
Taiwan has only had a total of seven deaths due to COVID-19 to date. One new COVID-19 case was confirmed on May 21st, while the number of COVID-19 cases remained steady at 440 cases between May 7th and May 21st. The last domestically transmitted case of COVID-19 was on April 12th, meaning that today is the 43rd consecutive day since there was a domestically transmitted case of COVID-19 in Taiwan. According to the CECC, 9,551 people are currently undergoing quarantine.
With the COVID-19 pandemic seemingly under control in Taiwan, restrictions on public gatherings have begun to be relaxed in Taiwan, and the CECC has engaged in efforts to reassure the public that it is safe to travel and go out.
Minister of Health Chen Shih-chung traveled to Kenting and Pingtung for a two day trip over the weekend in order to encourage domestic consumption, during which he also visited the Kenting night market, as well as the LOHAS Center and Oluanpi Day Care in Pingtung. To this extent, on Sunday, the CECC held its daily briefing in Kenting, rather than in Taipei. Chen’s trip was intended as a sign that it is now safe to travel to tourist destinations such as Kenting and to go to places such as night markets.
The government hopes to stimulate consumption by encouraging domestic tourism, seeing as the Taiwanese tourist industry has taken a severe hit due to borders remaining closed. The Taiwanese government is planning subsidies for individual and group travel, discounts for buses and theme parks, and promotion campaigns. The government is also considering awarding vouchers to consumers in return for spending.
Government facilities, public venues, and nightlife establishments in urban centers have begun to reopen, inclusive of health centers, public healthcare facilities, assembly halls, concert halls, hostess clubs, ballrooms. The number of participants allowed at baseball games was increased to 2,000 last week, while the National Symphony Orchestra held a concert Sunday with 500 attendees. Nevertheless, restrictions on public gatherings remain in the Taipei Main Station, where migrant workers congregate, and despite gradual reopenings, mosques in Taiwan have canceled public Eid al-Fitr celebrations.
Efforts to make information about COVID-19 prevention measures more accessible continue in Taiwan, with the Centers for Disease Control releasing a bilingual chatbot that is able to share information regarding COVID-19. Because of Taiwan’s high testing capacity, rules on COVID-19 testing have been relaxed, with individuals allowed to pay for tests if they intend to travel overseas, seeing as some countries require testing for COVID-19 before allowing for travel. Taiwanese abroad have also been urged to report if they have COVID-19 before attempting to travel back to Taiwan.
It is still not known when borders will be reopened, with the Ministry of Transportation and Communications suggesting that borders may be reopened to international travel in October, but the Ministry of Health and Welfare sounding a more cautious note and stating that international travel may only resume next year. Taiwanese researchers are currently cooperating with researchers at Stanford University on a project to see how the quarantine time for business can be reduced, as international discussion grows of creating “bubbles” of areas with low COVID-19 cases in which free travel will be allowed. Of countries in the region, Vietnam, notably, currently remains highly restrictive regarding travel from Taiwan.
Efforts by Taiwan to ship surplus medical supplies internationally as a form of soft power continue. Taiwan vowed donations of PPE and other medical supplies to Sicily after a request from Sicilian priest Calogero Orifiamma, who is based in Pingtung, with a previous call by Yilan-based Italian Giuseppe Didone having been answered with more than 120 million NTD in donations by over 20,000 donors. With the current export ban on medical masks likely to be lifted in the near future, this may result in more masks being sent abroad as part of civic efforts in “mask diplomacy.”
A Taiwan-developed human vaccine for COVID-19 is also set to begin human trials this fall. It remains to be seen how successful the vaccine will be.
Measures against COVID-19 continue to take place in Taiwan then, though the situation appears to be stable for the time being.