by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Peellden/WikiCommons/CC

THE CENTRAL EPIDEMIC Command Center (CECC), which coordinates Taiwan’s response to COVID-19, has announced a new requirement necessitating proof of vaccination for entry to bars, nightclubs, tea parlors with hostess services, and beauty parlors. This is in response to recent weeks that have seen cases return to the double digits, as well as a large number of imported cases.

The entertainment industry is particularly a matter of concern due to the COVID-19 pandemic that broke out last May, to date Taiwan’s only major COVID-19 outbreak. The outbreak began in Wanhua among tea parlors attended by the elderly, which involved karaoke and sometimes sex work. More generally, whether in Taiwan or the rest of the world, places where large numbers of individuals congregate are potential hotspots for COVID-19 clusters. 

Infographic released by the CECC on new measures for entertainment venues. Photo credit: Ministry of Health and Welfare/Facebook

At the same time, the effect of the COVID-19 outbreak on the entertainment industry, as well as the restaurant industry, was enormous. In particular, restaurants and entertainment venues suffered a large hit, due to being unable to offer indoor dining, or allow for areas in which people congregate. Although the government did offer economic relief measures, this was not enough to prevent many businesses from going under as COVID casualties. 

The CECC is probably hoping to avoid decimating the entertainment industry with the introduction of vaccine requirements. This is not the first time that proof of vaccination or of having had COVID-19 in the past is used for entry to establishments, with this requirement introduced for workers at the First Fruit and Vegetable Market, a central node for distribution of agricultural products in Taiwan. New measures require proof of vaccination on one’s National Health Insurance (NHI) app, through a digital certificate proving vaccination, or through the “Yellow Card” issued during vaccination. 

However, the central government was likely pressured to release something akin to a vaccine passport through use of the digital certificate or NHI app. This took place after Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je and New Taipei mayor Hou You-yi suggested that they would introduce vaccine passports in their cities, with Ko asserting that this would be rolled out through the TaipeiPASS app. 

Ko and Hou have sought to pressure the central government numerous times through the course of the pandemic. In particular, both have aimed to upstage the central government through more stringent measures regarding COVID-19, or to attack the central government as unnecessarily endangering the safety of Taiwanese. 

Ko has proved particularly prone to trying to promote the TaipeiPASS app rolled out by his administration, emphasizing that the app can centralize functions ranging from making vaccination appointments to QR code registration for contact tracing. Digital privacy advocates, however, have criticized the app for having too much access to users’ data. 

Infographic released by the CECC on the digital certificate for proving vaccination. Photo credit: Ministry of Health and Welfare/Facebook

In the meantime, there continue to be concerns about how widely COVID-19 has spread in Taiwan, after entering back into community transmission through cleaners at Taoyuan International Airport as well as quarantine taxi drivers. Others subsequently infected included bank employees at a Taoyuan bank visited by one of the cases, among family members, and at a new year’s celebration at a KTV. 

More recently, there are concerns about COVID-19 cases having spread to Kaohsiung and Hsinchu, among two families. The CECC is investigating how COVID-19 could have spread to these cases, and their links to existing cases. It remains to be seen if contact tracing demonstrates such links, otherwise it is feared that there may be undetected transmission of COVID-19 occurring among the community. 

Either way, with Taiwan’s economy on the path to recovery from being affected by COVID-19, the pressure is on for the Tsai administration to avoid another shift to level three that would lead to immediate economic shocks. As attested to in the recent national referendum, the Tsai administration is riding high in terms of popularity in part due to its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and stabilizing the situation without creating economic disruption will be a political imperative for the Tsai administration to maintain its current approval. 

No more articles