As we move into the next stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries across Europe are beginning to ease their respective lockdowns, and this is causing challenges to all of our communities as it is an experience unprecedented in recent human history.
But there are examples of how to reopen, and reopen safely. In recent weeks, there has been much press coverage about the proactive measures taken by the Taiwanese government to prevent the virus from gaining a foothold on the island and the country’s subsequent remarkably low number of cases – just 440 cases and 6 deaths as of May 7.
But more than these headline figures, the true measure of Taiwan’s success has been the prevention of community transmission of the virus within the country. If “flattening the curve” has been the focus of global efforts to this point, then preventing community transmission may be the new focus moving forward.
Taiwan may yet still have lessons to provide for us to help implement our strategies. What could the “new normal” look like, and what could other countries learn from Taiwan’s experience?
While life in Taiwan has continued without total lockdown, when much of the rest of the world has been forced into lockdown, that is not to say that community life there has remained unchanged. There continues to be a keen sense of vigilance among citizens and frequent temperature checks in public spaces.
Baseball, the country’s national sport, has continued to be played behind closed doors. But from May 8 onwards it will be played in front of crowds of 1000 socially distanced spectators.
Social distancing guidelines, issued by the country’s Centre for Disease Control, are followed fastidiously by the public. The prescribed social distance of 1.5 metres between individuals indoors and 1 metre outdoors is respected, and masks are provided to, and worn by, all. Constant reminders are being broadcasted to urge frequent handwashing and wearing masks.
Another important tool in the government’s arsenal has been the use of targeted mandatory quarantines. All those entering Taiwan are subject to a 14-day mandatory quarantine, a policy replicated by France in the past week and which is currently being discussed by the United Kingdom which is expected to announce its strategy on emerging from lockdown tomorrow.
There is still so much information and experience to share in order to help everyone to come out of this crisis better together. It is tragic that Taiwan has been excluded for political reasons from the WHO Committees dealing with this pandemic. Viruses do not respect politics or geographical boundaries, and it is an error to create such unnecessary barriers to proper international cooperation.