In Contrast to the Mainland, Taiwan is Dropping ‘Zero Covid’ Policy
20:54 GMT 09.05.2022 (Updated: 12:43 GMT 19.06.2023)
© AP Photo / Chiang Ying-yingPeople wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus walk on a street in Taipei, Taiwan, Saturday, April 30, 2022.
© AP Photo / Chiang Ying-ying
Taiwan and mainland China have been the poster children for how to stop the spread of COVID-19 with incredibly stringent lockdowns. But the Omicron variant has put that to the test, and now the island and the mainland are diverging in how they handle the disease.
Taiwan is moving away from its “zero Covid” policy, shifting to an approach more in line with much of the rest of the world and away from that of mainland China, where strict lockdowns are still the modus operandi for the communist country.
Taiwan, mainland China and Hong Kong were among the last places in the world fighting to keep COVID-19 out of their territories completely. They were largely successful until the rise of the Omicron variant spread around the globe. The less deadly but highly transmittable version of COVID-19 has proven very difficult to stop, even in countries with the most stringent prevention measures.
The Omicron variant ravaged the relatively unvaccinated Hong Kong, killing thousands in a city that only saw 205 deaths from COVID-19 from the beginning of the pandemic to the end of January 2022.
Taiwan has had far more success in preventing deaths, but as cases soar there, officials are moving towards a policy aimed at living with the virus rather than preventing it entirely.
Omicron’s lower death rate makes the move more palatable for the population. A recent poll by the Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation found roughly an even split among the population, with 45% in favor of a coexistence policy compared to 46.3% who are not. That is a big shift from last summer when 58.8% were worried that the government was opening back up too soon. More than 77% of respondents approved of Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control (CECC) handling of the pandemic.
According to Taiwanese officials, 99.7% of cases have been mild or asymptomatic. Still, they announced 12 new deaths out of 40,263 new cases on Monday. That brings the death toll up to 78 since April, when Omicron started spreading throughout the island.
Officials say they are looking to prevent disasters rather than end transmissions completely. That means more emphasis on protecting vulnerable populations and vaccines rather than quarantines and contact tracing. Mild and asymptomatic cases are also being encouraged to quarantine at home rather than in hospitals.
The transition is hitting a few road bumps. According to The Guardian, pharmacies are quickly running out of rapid tests and hospitals are overcrowded with patients looking for treatment and testing. Messaging and communication have also been an issue.
Last month, a three-year-old boy died after health officials gave his parents conflicting information on if he should be brought to a hospital. By the time his parents brought him in, it was too late.
Still, the argument can be made that the island’s policy is more humane than mainland China’s, which is in the middle of its own surge. The country’s financial capital Shanghai has been in the midst of a strict lockdown since early April and is utilizing a “closed-loop” system that enables its economy to continue functioning by requiring workers to stay and sleep in their offices and factories and prevents physical contact with the outside world, including family members. Last week, workers in a tech factory rioted in response to the strict lockdowns. Parts of Beijing are also under lockdown.
6 May 2022, 20:15 GMT
Taiwan’s premier Su Tseng-chang contrasted the “New Taiwan model” with Beijing's continuing zero COVID policy, “We will not lock down the country and cities as cruelly as China.”
But Ma Xiaoguang, spokesperson for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, took his own swipe at Taiwan’s new policy, “You can calculate how many people will lose their lives [under Taiwan’s new model.]”
Despite not closing down, the New York Times reports that Taiwan’s capital city Taipei is still noticeably quieter than it was before the pandemic began. Officials are still encouraging people to mask up in public, maintain social distance when possible and quarantine for seven days after testing positive. In addition, more than two thousand schools have suspended in-person teaching and are running classes online.
When announcing the new policy, Taiwan’s health minister Chen Shih-chung said that he expects COVID-19 to become more “flu-like” in the future.