By Ayn Hatfield
Source: The World
While millions of Americans have been forced to cancel travel and entertainment plans due to the ongoing pandemic, the people of Taiwan continue to live their lives relatively unchanged, the result of an extremely effective pandemic response. As of this article being written, Taiwan, an island nation with a population of over 25 million people, has experienced less than 1,000 total covid cases and 9 deaths. California, which has less than double the population of Taiwan, has experienced over 3 million cases, and over 44,000 deaths. Taiwan is one of the few places on Earth where life continues as normal, even holding a pride parade in October and a music festival in November. Economically, Taiwan’s GDP is forecasted to grow 3.7% this year, while the United States faces a recession and increasing job loss.
The eminent success in Taiwan was achieved through a series of strict regulations, as well as the compulsory actions of Taiwanese citizens. Currently, only Taiwanese citizens are allowed back on the island nation, and each individual must go through a mandated 14 day quarantine period in which they are not allowed to leave their hotel room. The individuals are also tracked through their cell phone, in order for the government to know if protocol has been broken. These quarantines are taken extremely seriously and even the slightest breach in protocol is punished severely. In early December, a man stepped out of his quarantine room for exactly 8 seconds and was immediately fined 3,500 USD. Although the hypervigilance of Taiwan has allowed for normalcy to continue, covid is still a threat that looms over the country. Despite taking the necessary precautions, Taiwan experienced their first covid case in more than 255 days in late December. The pilot who was infected was promptly fired from his job for not taking the proper precautions, and EVA Air, his employer, was also fined 35,000 USD. Outside of governmental regulations, people wear masks and use hand sanitizer constantly, out of courtesy for others. There is no debate about whether or not masks are necessary, or if the virus is even real. These are the types of strict policy changes and cooperation from the masses that are needed in order to keep a country safe during this tumultuous time.
In stark contrast, there has not been any type of federal implementation of policy change within the United States for covid. Every state has different standards of testing, lockdown, and consequences. Furthermore, many elected officials have made it evident that they do not believe in what they are preaching to the average American. In November, the mayor of Austin urged the people of Austin to stay home and cancel their Thanksgiving plans, while he went to Cabo for his daughter’s wedding. While there are no changes on the federal level, the small steps that have been made at the state level are unfortunately clearly economically motivated. In California, Governor Gavin Newsom has lifted the stay at home orders, despite coronavirus cases reaching yet another new peak. In December, he ordered the shutdown of restaurants which put small businesses in even greater risk of going under, while allowing shopping malls to conveniently stay open for the holidays. On an individual level, many Americans still do not believe the virus exists, and are outraged at the mere thought of wearing a mask. The juxtaposition between the United States and Taiwan’s response is yet another prominent reminder on how much reform still needs to be done here in the United States.
Although Taiwan has become highlighted as a global leader in its coronavirus response, this has not helped alleviate its geopolitical issues. Due to China’s influence, Taiwan has been continuously left out of the World Health Assembly, which is glaringly ironic given that the majority of countries can only dream of emulating their covid health policies. China’s reasoning for this is that as part of China, the Beijing representative will act as a liaison between the World Health Assembly and Taiwan. Yet last year, when Taiwanese researchers found that the coronavirus was airborne and relayed that information to Beijing, the World Health Organization still released a tweet stating that the coronavirus was not airborne. This type of discrepancy is why it is imperative for Taiwan to be allowed to participate in the World Health Assembly. Unfortunately, within the World Health Assembly and organizations in general, have continuously demonstrated that politics is more important than humanity. In times like this, there is no room for political division and until we can fully learn that lesson, we will all continue to suffer.
Ayn Hatfield is currently a second year graduate student studying international affairs at UC San Diego with a focus in East Asia, and is specifically interested in cross strait relations.