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Taiwan and the Pandemic


One of the questions we have often been asked is, “How are things in Taiwan with the COVID-19 pandemic?” The answer to that question is complex, but we usually respond with something like, “Pretty good compared to the rest of the world.” This response is really an oversimplified understatement. So, for our first blog entry of 2022, we decided it might be helpful to give a brief history of how Taiwan has handled the pandemic.

In the Beginning

Let’s jump back to December 31, 2019. This date is significant in that the Taiwan Center for Disease Control (CDC) first learned about a potential virus threat early that morning, and by the end of the same day had already contacted the WHO, held a press conference to update the population, and initiated inspections at the airports for passengers from Wuhan, China. The CDC was well-prepared for an event like this, as they had experienced the SARS Epidemic back in 2003. By January 2, 2020, they had established a special Epidemic Response Team and doctors were asked to report any suspicious symptoms from visitors from Wuhan.

By the end of January, the government activated their Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), led by Shih-Chung Chen, began distributing masks, suspending flights from Wuhan, and requiring all incoming passengers to fill out a COVID-19 Health Form, all before the WHO had officially recognized that there was human-to-human transmission of the virus. In February, cruise ships were banned from docking, mask production was drastically increased, and mandatory 14-day quarantines went into effect for incoming passengers with suspected cases. It was not until March 11 that the WHO officially characterized the virus as a pandemic.

Closing the Doors

March 19, 2020, the government announced that visitors would no longer be allowed to enter the country without a residency card, and those who could enter would face quarantines, while at the same time they began extending the period to stay of foreign visitors already in the country. This was done to limit the spread of the virus by reducing the overall movement of people. We were very grateful this, as we had just returned from a trip to the US on March 12, and did not have a residency card. The extensions have continued each month since then, and we just received our 19th extension last week!

Through a combination of strict border control (easier for Taiwan as it is an island with only two international airports), extensive contact tracing, mandatory mask-wearing, and quarantines, Taiwan was able to avoid an outbreak of COVID-19 throughout 2020, while the rest of the world was dealing with large case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths. Up until the spring of 2021, the total cases here were less than 1,000, with only 12 deaths.

May 2021 Outbreak

However, the situation changed in May of 2021, when an outbreak among crew members of China Airlines led to a sharp surge in cases. It was only then that Taiwan experienced the kind of lockdown that the rest of the world suffered the year before. Schools, restaurants, and all non-essential stores were closed for about three months, gradually opening up again over the summer, with mask-wearing protocols in place.

The amazing thing is that by September, the outbreak was under control, and since then the daily case counts have been back to a near zero local transmission rate. It was quite a feat to keep the virus out of the country for over a year, but an even greater accomplishment to bring a major outbreak down to zero within six months! However, with the new Omicron variant spreading worldwide, they continue to be vigilant.

“It was quite a feat to keep the virus out of the country for over a year, but an even greater accomplishment to bring a major outbreak down to zero within six months!”

Regarding vaccinations, Taiwan started much later than most countries. At the time of the May outbreak, only 0.5% of the population had received one dose. Since then, free vaccinations have gradually been made available to everyone (including visa overstayers with no questions asked) and currently, nearly 70% of the population is fully vaccinated with two doses. Booster shots have begun for those who were vaccinated earliest.

So that’s the story. We are grateful to God that our last two years have been spent in our home, and that the government looks favorably on us “foreigners.” Create International Taiwan’s ministry has continued uninterrupted, although we have had to adjust to the new norms brought on by a worldwide pandemic. Our situation has helped us explore new ways to use media to reach the unreached, and new formats for training others to do the same. Thanks for praying for us in Taiwan.

- Dave H.

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