Commitment to Caring
BY KELLY HER
A cargo plane is loaded with personal protective equipment at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in April as part of a humanitarian assistance program sending 10 million medical masks to front-line medical personnel combating coronavirus in Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, as well as like-minded partners in Europe and the U.S. (Photo by Chen Mei-ling)
Taiwan is sharing its experiences and resources while taking a prominent role in the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Since coronavirus was first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, it has claimed over 400,000 lives and infected millions worldwide while shutting down economic and social activities. But Taiwan has stood out as a beacon of hope thanks to its effective pandemic response that has seen cases so far limited to less than 500 with only seven deaths. This means the country is well-positioned to offer assistance to allies and like-minded partners in managing COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
“Taiwan’s efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus have won widespread acclaim and recognition from the international community,” Foreign Minister Jaushieh Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) said. “We’ve also helped others as much as we can while maintaining our success at home.”
A public health emergency of unprecedented severity in modern times, COVID-19 has proven the importance of global cooperation on health care. “Mutual assistance based on reciprocity is at the heart of any pandemic response,” Wu said. “The government has been open in letting the world know Taiwan Can Help combat coronavirus.”
Foreign Minister Jaushieh Joseph Wu, fourth right, presides over a ceremony April 24 marking a donation of automatic temperature measurement systems and forehead thermometers to Taiwan’s allies, Germany and the U.S. by New Taipei City-based TaiDoc Technology Corp. (Photo by Chen Mei-ling)
Time of Need
In April, Taiwan launched its first wave of international assistance by donating 10 million medical masks for use as personal protective equipment (PPE) by front-line medical personnel combating coronavirus in the country’s allies, as well as like-minded partners in Europe and the U.S. The timely delivery of much needed supplies drew praise from many senior officials, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who said in a tweet April 1: “The European Union thanks Taiwan for its donation of 5.6 million masks to help fight the coronavirus. We really appreciate this gesture of solidarity.”
Strong support from global leaders was supplemented by backing from business heads and celebrities, who lauded Taiwan’s rapid and effective pandemic control measures. In an April 5 interview with U.S.-based TV network Fox News, Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates called the country’s handling of coronavirus “exemplary,” while American actor and singer Barbra Streisand also praised Taiwan’s response on Twitter.
According to Wu, Taiwan’s strategy for managing coronavirus has relied on a whole-of-government approach and transparent information sharing backed by the lessons of dealing with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003. Shortly after learning of a mysterious SARS-like illness in China, the Central Epidemic Command Center was established, while measures such as strengthening border controls and quarantine procedures through the use of advanced tracking technology were implemented.
A further six million medical masks are loaded for transport to severely hit states in the U.S.; EU members in central, eastern and northern Europe; countries in the Caribbean and Latin America; as well as New Southbound Policy target nations. (Photos by Chen Mei-ling)
Widespread wearing of face masks was also a crucial component of Taiwan’s epidemic response, with the government upping domestic production of the PPE item by requisitioning production facilities and implementing a real-name system for purchases using the National Health Insurance database to prevent panic buying. An export ban on face masks was also announced Jan. 24 just three days after the country’s first confirmed case of COVID-19.
To boost supply, the Cabinet ordered the establishment of 92 medical mask production lines and provided a total investment of NT$270 million (US$9.7 million) in early February and March. This hiked Taiwan’s daily output from less than 1.9 million masks in January to more than 13 million by late March, turning the country into the world’s second largest mask producer.
According to Hsu Wen-hsien (許文憲), chairman of the Taiwan Machine Tool and Accessory Builders’ Association (TMBA) based in the central city of Taichung, up to 80 percent of masks were imported prior to coronavirus. “Local machinery manufacturers had to make up for this shortfall in just a few weeks,” he said. “By pooling our human and hardware resources and working day and night, we somehow managed.”
Hsu said he was proud at how quickly companies shifted from competition to collaboration. He also praised the government’s quick decision-making with regard to the distribution and production of face masks. “Taiwan’s effective COVID-19 response has put the country in the international spotlight, and we’re glad to be a part of that effort,” Hsu said. “We now have the capacity to assist others, and our team is eager to do so.”
A team of senior technicians from Taiwan Machine Tool and Accessory Builders’ Association work alongside employees at factories in New Taipei to assemble mask-making machines. (Photos courtesy of Taiwan Machine Tool and Accessory Builders’ Association)
The unprecedented increase in domestic mask production enabled Taiwan to help other countries trying to secure PPE supplies. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) announced a second round of donations April 9, delivering a further six million medical masks to severely hit states in the U.S.; EU members in central, eastern and northern Europe; countries in the Caribbean and Latin America; as well as nations targeted under the New Southbound Policy (NSP).
A key plank of the government’s national development strategy, the NSP seeks to enhance Taiwan’s agricultural, business, cultural, education, tourism and trade ties with the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations member states, six South Asian countries, Australia and New Zealand.
A further shipment of 2 million masks arrived in Tokyo April 21 to help Japan’s front-line medical staffers. Aside from masks, other essential pieces of equipment donated by Taiwan include face shields, disinfectants, thermometers, thermal imaging devices and ventilators.
Rooms in the Grand Hotel Taipei light up to spell the word “zero” in celebration of no new confirmed COVID-19 cases in Taiwan April 27. (Photo by Chin Hung-hao)
Taiwan’s largesse has not gone unnoticed in the international community. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a tweet April 8 that the openness and generosity of Taiwan in the global battle against COVID-19 are a model for the world. This was echoed by Prime Minister Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini of African ally Kingdom of Eswatini, who thanked Taiwan for providing financial and human resources to combat coronavirus.
In addition to donations of medical supplies, Taiwan has joined forces with countries including the U.S. and EU member states with the aim of ending the pandemic. For example, the Taiwan-U.S. Joint Statement on a Partnership against Coronavirus was issued by Wu and American Institute in Taiwan Director Brent Christensen March 18, declaring that both sides will seek to share best practices and collaborate on activities including R&D of rapid tests, medicines and vaccines; contact tracing techniques and technology; joint conferences by scientists and experts; and cooperation and exchange of medical supplies and equipment.
According to James Liao (廖俊智), president of Taiwan’s top research institution Academia Sinica, the coronavirus outbreak has reached a critical stage that can only be managed through comprehensive global collaboration. To this end, Academia Sinica has inked numerous pacts with counterparts abroad to combine forces on research efforts, seeing overseas experts working alongside the country’s best talent.
Wu has also been busy sharing the secrets of the Taiwan Model for combating coronavirus, appearing via video link at an event for U.S.-based think tank the Hudson Institute April 9. He previously sat down for interviews with international TV networks including Canadian Broadcasting Corp. March 19 and Fox Business March 24 to highlight the key factors behind the country’s remarkable success.
Despite exclusion from the global health system, Taiwan managed to prevent a mass outbreak of COVID-19 thanks to its proactive response. But its absence from the World Health Organization (WHO) continues to endanger people at home and abroad. “The rapid spread of coronavirus is testimony to the fact that disease knows no national borders and that no gap in the global health network can be allowed,” Wu said. “We’ll continue to take concrete actions to demonstrate Taiwan Can Help realize the WHO’s goal of Health For All.”
Retrieve from Taiwan Review