After initial success, Taiwan struggles to break out of ‘zero COVID’ policy. coronavirus pandemic news

Taipei, Taiwan – Taiwan’s quick decision to close its borders in the early days of the pandemic earned it a low mortality rate And the sense of normalcy that made it the envy of the world.

Nearly two years later, the self-governing island could be a victim of its initial success, some experts say, as health officials continue to pursue a different “zero COVID-19” policy despite the widespread availability of vaccines.

“People in Taiwan have been – let me use a strong word – ‘bad’ with good lives and also have a low tolerance for outbreaks in any community,” said Chunhui Chi, a professor at the Center for Global Health at Oregon State. Professor and Director. university, told Al Jazeera.

Taiwan’s border restrictions are among the strictest in the world, even requiring vaccinated arrivals, including citizens, to undergo 14 days of hotel quarantine – although Hong Kong and mainland China use 21-day hotel confinement. maintain an even stricter regime.

In May, officials closed the border to anyone without citizenship or a current foreign residency certificate — the equivalent of a US green card — creating headaches for foreigners with job offers or school placements.

Although authorities have recently begun to allow the return of foreign workers, students, academics and professionals holding three-year “gold card” visas, the window of entry will close again in mid-December as Taiwan was the first to go abroad. Prepares for the influx of citizens. Lunar New Year on February 1

In some cases, foreigners already living in Taiwan have been forced to leave indefinitely because their visas require an exit and re-entry for renewal. In other cases, foreign residents face the prospect of living under ambiguous visa waivers, while rules relating to COVID-19 appear to change on a case-by-case basis.

Taiwan has reported one of the lowest COVID caseloads and death tolls in the world during the pandemic [File: Ann Wang/Reuters]

Daniel Johnson, a British-South African tech entrepreneur who moved to Taiwan a year ago on a working holiday visa, is among those in limbo.

Johnson, who perfectly suits the type of migrant the government says it wants to attract, will have to apply for a 30-day “extension” every month. Each time he has to tell the authorities that he does not feel safe returning to the UK and leave his residence certificate and national health insurance card, which most foreigners are eligible to apply for after six months of continuous residency .

“While getting the visa on arrival was fine enough, the difficult thing was to find out the updates on the different visas, because each one had its own nuances and things had changed,” Johnson told Al Jazeera. “But the documentation didn’t represent it. I thought it would be a multilingual document, and in some cases it was, but in a lot of cases it didn’t exist at all or it was out of date.

Like many foreigners, Johnson has found that immigration and consular officials have no leeway or information to navigate changes related to COVID, often with different answers to questions on a day to day basis.

In some cases, the border has been quietly opened to foreign professionals, executives and experts who successfully applied for emergency travel exemptions through their company, according to industry groups such as the American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM).

These exceptional visa approvals after special application and case-by-case review have been used in a range of industries in Taiwan to require specialists on site, as well as by officials on rotation, according to AmCham President Andrew Voylegala, Those who described the system as “welcome” but not ideal.

“There is concern that this is a bit ad hoc, simply because it may differ from region to region, the time frame may not be entirely clear and the criteria listed are somewhat vague, or the process is difficult to work through.” It is,” said Vialegala.

Voylegala said Taiwan could lose trade and trade deals to its neighbors as they reopen in the long term.

‘Orthodox Mode’

Although COVID-19 has affected sectors such as small businesses and tourism, Taiwan’s economy has seen strong growth over the past year led by its semiconductor and tech industry.

Hong-Jen Chang, who served as director of Taiwan’s CDC from 1999 to 2000, told Al Jazeera, “People don’t see that it’s harmful to our economy as a whole, only business travelers, tourists, who People can travel.” ,

With a national referendum in December and local elections for key positions such as mayor of Taipei City in 2022, the government has been exposed to the dangers of the virus with little incentive to open itself up to the media and Taiwan’s main opposition political party. continues to do. ,

“There’s a perfect Taiwanese idiom for this: ‘The actors want the show to end, but not the audience,'” said Oregon State University professor Chi. “Even if policy makers are thinking and planning about relaxing and opening up, knowing that the audience, the people of Taiwan, have extremely low tolerance for any outbreak – even That—even a minor outburst—pushes them into more conservative mode.”

even after one Major outbreak in MayAccording to the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths are less than 17,000 and 848, respectively, the lowest in the world.

“What happened internationally in Taiwan in May and June is very mild, but in Taiwan it was considered very serious,” Chi said. “This public sentiment put undue pressure on policy makers and politicians.”

After an initial shortage of vaccines earlier this year due to delays by the international vaccine initiative COVAX, Taiwan has gradually Made up for its lack through donations Production of Medigin vaccine in and from the US, Japan, Lithuania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

According to Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center, vaccination rates have reached 77 percent for the first dose and nearly 50 percent for both.

Despite being on track to reach maximum vaccine coverage within a few weeks, officials have given little indication that reopening cards will begin anytime soon.

Chang, a former CDC director, said Taiwan would eventually need to open up, but officials were in a difficult position as they weighed health concerns against the economy and public opinion.

He said officials could ease some travel restrictions by expediting testing of those coming from abroad. But it would involve creating a more complex system that could be difficult to communicate to the public.

“When you say that a case is not tolerated, it is difficult to design the system,” Chang said. “It’s doable, but [government] Can’t get public support. So that’s the problem. Because we are a democracy, aren’t we? Not like China.”


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