As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across the globe and with over three billion people worldwide currently living under lockdown, many are asking the question: is there an alternative method that doesn’t entail such draconian measures?
Sitting in self-isolation in my garden in Belgium, where I shall be spending at least another 3 weeks or longer, I worry about the economic consequences of this policy, and the effects on my family in different parts of the world, all facing different treatment by the authorities. I also wonder how my friends in Taiwan are coping without a lockdown?
With its proximity to China, which was responsible for spawning and proliferating this epidemic, and the high frequency of person-to-person contact between the two nations, Taiwan was at first thought to be particularly at risk during the initial outbreak of infection by the virus. But, as of March 26, Taiwan has only registered 252 confirmed cases and 2 deaths, of which nearly all (over 83%) are imported from China, Europe, the USA and the Middle East. Their successful containment efforts have drawn attention and praise from around the world.
Taiwan acted swiftly and it acted effectively. As the first country to bar access from Wuhan city, and subsequently from the rest of China, Taiwan stopped the virus in its tracks before it could get a foothold in the country. Moreover, this was followed up with proactive contact tracing and quarantining of those infected or potentially infected. One man who travelled from Wuhan and visited a night club in Taiwan knowing that he was infected was subsequently arrested, sentenced and fined $10,000 for his irresponsible behaviour.
As a result, Taiwan appears increasingly unique as a society that is fully functional, where offices, schools, shops and restaurants are still open and life continues at a relatively normal pace. What’s more, the Taiwanese efforts have been carried out with full transparency and public engagement – putting paid to the notion that democracies lack the capacity to deal with this crisis adequately.
Their track record compares favourably with many other countries, and suggests that the economy of Taiwan is likely to prove more resilient and come back to growth faster than many other societies when the rebound occurs after the global epidemic has finally been defeated.