I’d like to post an update about my current situation in Taiwan regarding the coronavirus as many of my friends and family on the outside are perhaps unaware of it. I think they might find this interesting, especially as Taiwan is not often in the global spotlight and many of us here believe there are clear and present forces at work to keep our story silent and hidden from the rest of the world.
I have been critical of friends who have flaunted success stories coming from this island because I’m skeptical of prematurely claiming victory over something as unpredictable and insuppressible as a global pandemic. But now that enough time has passed, I feel more confident in stating the obvious and openly joining friends of Taiwan in their optimism. Simply put, Taiwan has been kicking some serious coronavirus ass!
While America's economy has been plummeting, I have not experienced any economic or social disruptions since the onset of this pandemic. Not a single business, restaurant, or public place I frequent has closed its doors to me. Not a single class has been canceled at my school. Not one. In fact, I have even experienced several benefits from this situation. I’ve filled up my gas tank a few times recently and been pleasantly surprised at how low the price has dropped (yes, we can drive here!). Some of the places I visit have been less crowded due to there being fewer tourists and travelers. Also, although I am missing out on watching my Dodger games, baseball is alive and well in Taiwan. We are currently hosting the one and only active professional baseball league in the entire world at this time. And they have cheerleaders, too!
Specifically in Taitung, life is good. As of now, Taitung County has reported a grand total of ZERO coronavirus cases, and there are currently ZERO people undergoing quarantine here as well. Everything has remained open. We can go to the beaches and mountains unabatedly, and we can even go out to bars and enjoy live music here. Some friends claim Taitung is one of the safest places on Earth right now. I have to agree, they are probably right.
Don't get me wrong, some major changes have taken place here in Taiwan. An astounding number of flights have been canceled. The airline and tourism industries are definitely suffering. Arrivals are being quarantined and visas are being compulsorily extended - a real bureaucratic nightmare. Those who’ve been infected or exposed to the covid have undergone strict quarantine, including a few people I know. Some public transportation schedules have been altered. And various mass gatherings have been postponed. But again, very little (if any) of this has affected me directly. The most notable change I’ve experienced is being encouraged to wear a surgical mask and have my temperature checked and hands sanitized when entering public areas. But after having lived here for over 5 years, all that is really no big deal to me. In truth, the biggest headache I’ve had to endure is witnessing what’s been going on in the media - it’s taxing and exhausting. Even the memes just don't seem so funny anymore.
That being said, to this day, Taiwan - an island of over 23 million people - has recorded fewer than 500 cases of coronavirus. The vast majority of those cases have been imported through ports of entry (mainly the airport) and effectively been quarantined and cut off from the surrounding community. A mere 6 deaths have been credited to COVID-19. If you can fathom the close proximity of relations between Taiwan and China, let alone the rest of the world, these results are undeniably outstanding.
So, what do people here attribute this success to? As I understand it: a functional public health care system and a benevolent government that is swift, efficient, and transparent about issues regarding public health and safety. Also, Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center has become more prepared for pandemic counteraction than most other countries due to previous experiences with health scares, most notably the SARS epidemic a few years back. Needless to say, most folks here keep the government in good faith and are feeling relatively safe right now, much more so than in other parts of the globe.
Now, why does it seem that most of the world is oblivious to Taiwan’s ongoing success with the coronavirus? And why aren’t other governments and media outlets promoting Taiwan's exemplary handling of this pandemic or even asking for their advice? In a word, politics. More specifically, politics regarding China. It's undeniable that the Chinese Communist Party has a large influence in global affairs. And they do NOT want the world to know that Taiwan is, indeed, independent from them in so many ways. Giving any acknowledgment whatsoever to any achievement by Taiwan is contradictory to their agenda. And it's for that reason that the World Health Organization has continually ignored warnings and advice coming from Taiwan – information that could have potentially been critically helpful to many other countries, including the United States where so many of my family and friends are currently suffering from restrictions, lock-downs, economic losses, and even illness and death from the virus itself.
The way I see it, most people here are quite unsatisfied with the WHO's handling of this pandemic and the lack of recognition Taiwan is receiving. Despite their frustration, Taiwan is still sending out massive shipments of surgical masks and medical supplies to countries in need, including the USA. Check out the hashtag #TaiwanCanHelp if you'd like to see for yourself.
As for me, I'm pretty sure many of my friends and family have questioned my decision to move to Taiwan when I did all those years ago. To tell the truth, I've questioned myself countless times for making that decision, trust me. But lately I have been feeling very grateful for being here where I am now, and our situation regarding the coronavirus has increasingly helped to validate that decision. Furthermore, an ongoing theme I continue to encounter during my time here is the wonderful privilege of living in a society that provides affordable health care for its people. It's not perfect, and I wouldn't dare say it could be identically implemented in the States. But seriously, how can the so-called greatest nation on Earth not provide adequate health care for its own citizens? Call me an idealist, but I just don't think I'm ever going to be able to get past that question.
Ultimately, there's no guarantee Taiwan will continue to enjoy the success against the coronavirus we've been experiencing thus far. Things have a way of changing. The world can suddenly find itself turned upside down. So I encourage my friends both in and out of Taiwan to stay vigilant. Keep washing your hands and wearing those masks. I'm optimistic we'll all get through this eventually.
And dang, I sure do wish I could stream a Dodger game right now, or at least listen to a live radio broadcast. But hey, Taiwan’s got baseball. So I guess public health is not the only lesson the world can learn from Taiwan. I'll leave a photo of the cheerleaders in the comments.