Since the novel coronavirus outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December last year, COVID-19 has rapidly spread to more than 148 countries. The WHO has declared it a pandemic.
As of Thursday last week, there were at least 191,000 confirmed cases and more than 7,800 deaths globally. Taiwan’s confirmed cases were 108 and it had reported one death.
In preventing the first wave of the virus spreading from China to the island, Taiwan’s performance was outstanding. We held firm. We have won praise from all over the world — New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that they would like to use the Taiwanese model to combat the pandemic.
The success of Taiwan’s efforts against virus is due to seven factors: a bitter lesson learned from the SARS outbreak in 2002; a high-quality, low-cost health insurance system; effective leadership with professionals in charge; joint efforts by industry and government to produce medical supplies; sound household registration and local medical facilities; a well designed mechanism for tracking people at risk of infection; and sacrifices by our physicians, nurses and other healthcare workers.
The latest data show that Taiwan is facing a wave of cases imported from other countries. Of the 108 confirmed cases, 78 were imported and 30 were from local transmission. The second wave is coming, so everyone should cooperate with disease prevention efforts.
The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) has indicated that it needs to implement tougher guidelines to slow the virus’ spread as uncertainty is casting a pall on stock markets and the economy might be headed toward a recession.
The CECC has stipulated four restrictions: foreign travelers are to be denied entry into Taiwan, with the exception of diplomats and businesspeople fulfilling commercial contracts; people are urged to refrain from unnecessary overseas travel; people are to be placed under mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Taiwan; and school students and teachers are prohibited from traveling abroad until the end of this semester.
Despite Article 10 of the Constitution guaranteeing freedom of residence, the travel restrictions are part of an emergency situation, so are not a violation of the document.
While people have the right to travel, at this critical moment, they should practice social responsibility by cooperating with disease prevention efforts.
If we lose the battle in the second wave, the whole country will suffer enormously.
To cushion the economic impact of the virus, the Legislative Yuan passed the Special Act on COVID-19 Prevention, Relief and Recovery (嚴重特殊傳染性肺炎防治及紓困振興特別條例), allocating NT$60 billion (US$1.97 billion), part of which might be used to alleviate losses caused by delays or cancelations of overseas travel.
COVID-19 has spread all over the world and most countries have closed their borders. Even the US and Canada have closed their shared 6,000km border to all non-essential travel. The EU announced that its 27 member countries have closed their borders. Foreign travelers are barred entry almost everywhere.
Former US president John F. Kennedy’s famous call for his countrymen to uphold their social responsibility is appropriate in these times.
Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th president of the US on Jan. 20, 1961.
In his inaugural address, he spoke of the need for all Americans to be active citizens, saying: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
The coronavirus is not under control in this country and each one of us is going to have to take it seriously.
In the war against COVID-19, our fate is in our own hands.
Lee Po-chih is professor emeritus of economics and former vice president of National University of Kaohsiung.
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