As the number of locally transmitted COVID-19 cases rises, contact tracing has shown that, apart from those who were infected in Taipei’s Wanhua District (萬華) or by family members, most have contracted the virus at traditional markets or supermarkets.
Although the “eight major special establishment categories” — including nightclubs, hostess and karaoke bars, teahouses and saunas — are temporarily closed, and people no longer flock to restaurants and department stores, crowds of shoppers can sometimes still be seen at traditional markets, supermarkets and hypermarkets.
Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) and New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜) have urged people to shop for groceries less frequently, but have failed to develop effective precautions against potential infection sources.
They have instead held news conferences promoting their COVID-19 “lockdown drills,” a show-and-tell of their crisis management skills.
The drills, which should have been conducted behind the scenes, caused worry among the segment of the population ready to hoard toilet paper at the merest hint of trouble. The drills just made these people more anxious, which could lead to panic buying.
No wonder Keelung Mayor Lin Yu-chang (林右昌) made fun of them for not even being able to manage their markets, let alone lockdowns.
Lin instead proposed an effective measure: asking residents to shop on a rotating basis. Those whose national identification numbers end in an odd number shop on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while those whose numbers end in an even number can go on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) and several local government leaders from the pan-blue and pan-green camps have followed suit, to avoid repeating the mistakes of Taipei and New Taipei City.
Apart from a level 4 lockdown, this enhancement of the real-name registration system might be the most effective way to contain the outbreak.
Taipei and New Taipei City, which so far have been hit the hardest by domestic cases, have not adopted rotational shopping, but are simply asking residents to manage themselves, which makes one wonder if they are trying to save face. It implies a lack of understanding of how to use mass psychology in the service of crisis management.
Most office workers go grocery shopping over the weekend, so without clear guidance from the government, people would shop at their own convenience. Only by setting out rules can the government take the many weekend shoppers and redistribute them throughout the week.
In Kaohsiung, Chen had 21,000 residents vaccinated within three days and promptly adopted the rotational shopping system.
Compared with the Taipei and New Taipei City mayors — who criticize the central government for not giving them enough vaccine doses, but then are slow to offer the shots when they are given them — it is easy to see who likes to show off and who handles problems.
To prevent gatherings at local markets in Taipei and New Taipei City over the weekend — and avoid a spike in infections a week or two later due to the two mayors’ negligence — the Central Epidemic Command Center should immediately launch a rotational shopping system at markets in all cities and counties nationwide.
Robert Wang is a freelance writer.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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