ISSUE 34                                                                                         April 9, 2020
Taiwan Weekly
Reliable report and analysis of the most important issues in Taiwan
In This Issue
● Featured Editorial: 
Crucial Masks Ban and Mask Diplomacy
● This Week in Taiwan: 
Other Important Events This Week


The Policies and Politics Behind Face Masks
Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center announced that people must wear masks when taking public transportation to avoid a fine.
(Photo from: United Daily News)
Featured News
Policy Imposes Fine on Public Transportation Passengers Not Wearing Mask

United Daily News, April 4, 2020


To contain community transmission of the coronavirus (COVID-19), Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung, who heads the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), announced on April 3 that all passengers on public transportation are required to wear a mask, and those who refuse to wear one will face a fine up to NT$15,000 (about US$496). The Taiwan Railways Administration and Taiwan High Speed Rail have both announced a few days ago that all passengers have to wear a mask before boarding the train. Taipei, New Taipei, Taoyuan, and Kaohsiung city governments have also decided that all passengers must now wear a mask before taking the metro.


The CECC published the “Guidelines for Social Distancing” demanding the social distancing of 1.5 meters indoors and 1 meter outdoors for people not wearing a mask. The first phase of implementation is through soft method of persuasion. However, there was an incident yesterday that one passenger refused to wear mask upon entering the metro station and even yelled at the metro workers who stopped him, chanting “There is no mandatory rule to wear mask!” Minister Chen immediately announced that everyone must wear a mask when taking public transportation.


Chen Tsung-yen, deputy commander of the CECC, pointed out that the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) is in charge of public transportation. All vehicles of public transportation using railways and highways under the MOTC’s jurisdiction should require passengers to wear a mask immediately. Station staff will direct passengers without mask to nearby convenience store to buy one. During the first phase, the method of implementation is through persuasion first. Only passengers who refuse to cooperate will be fined in accordance with the “Communicable Diseases Control Act” and “Social Order Maintenance Act.”


Minister Chen went on to say that passengers on public transportation without wearing a mask will be asked to wear one first, only those passengers who refuse to wear one after repeated persuasion will be fined between NT$3,000 (about US$99) to NT$15,000 according to Article 37 of the Communicable Diseases Control Act. Furthermore, if passengers use improper words or actions against the civil servants on duty, even though the degree of seriousness does not constitute coercion, threat or insult, those passengers could still face detention or a fine no more than NT$12,000 (about US$397) according to the Social Order Maintenance Act.


Likewise, all airline passengers are required to wear a mask for the entire duration of the flight. According to the MOTC’s “Guidelines for Passenger Safety and Protection,” airline companies can reject any passenger to board plane for not wearing a mask. Similarly, passengers should refrain from talking with other passengers. Passengers are also advised to prepare gloves and disinfection alcohol under 100 milliliters to sanitize the in-flight entertainment equipment such as remote controls.


The Guidelines for Social Distancing will be implemented in two phases. The first phase is through soft method of persuasion and the second phase is through mandatory rules. During the April 1 press conference, Minister Chen stressed that the CECC would not declare the date of the second phase in order to avoid public fluster. However, due to the fact that within three days there was a case of non-compliance, Minister Chen soon announced that it is mandatory to wear a mask on public transportation and violators will face a fine.


Featured Editorial
The administration of President Tsai Ing-wen banned the export of masks to the Chinese mainland but announced at the same time donation of masks to the United States and Southeast Asian countries, stirring controversy over mask diplomacy.
(Photo from:  United Daily News)

Crucial Masks Ban and Mask Diplomacy

United Daily News, April 2, 2020


President Tsai Ing-wen pledged to donate 10 million face masks to areas and diplomatic allies hit hardest by coronavirus pandemic. It evoked both praise and criticism from the public. However, recipient countries including the European Union and the United States expressed their gratitude. The United States called Taiwan a "real friend". While expressing that it was "glad to see that Taiwan can help", the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman derided the move. "When the epidemic first broke out in the Chinese mainland, the Taiwan authorities banned the export of masks."


The people of Taiwan are proud of their country’s ability to help countries fight the epidemic. Global cooperation to stem the spread of the pandemic is also the responsibility of the citizens of the world. However, at the beginning of the outbreak of the epidemic in China, apparently directed at the mainland, Premier Su Tseng-chang issued a ban on the export of masks, hurting the feelings of mainland Chinese people. His argument of "self-help first, then can one save others" also left deep impressions on the people of Taiwan.


While the Tsai administration basks in the aura of mask diplomacy, the people still have to line up, sun or rain, to buy the rationed three masks for the week. They said that a new system of nine masks for two weeks starting from April 9 would end the ordeal. However, the government already began requiring everyone to wear a mask on public transportation. The new system could not meet the need for one mask per working day. So, in terms of the mask, one needs to be frugal and make do for now, rough it for the days ahead.


Ironically, compared with the epidemic situation in various countries, Taiwan has been successful in epidemic control so far. Apart from the efforts of the medical workers, to whom we were indebted, it was more to do with the people’s distrust of the government’s instructions. In the beginning, the government declared that healthy people need not wear masks, and even enlisted an internet celebrity doctor to affirm that people need not wear masks when taking the metro. Fortunately, the people did not buy it. They pressed ahead to grab masks no matter how many hassles. Finally, having endured the mask chaos, Taiwan emerged as an outstanding model of epidemic prevention.


The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) have exploded in Europe and the United States, and the confirmed cases worldwide are about to exceed 1 million. When the epidemic has just spread from China, Asian people put on masks. But people in Europe and the United States rejected masks and even discriminated against and attacked Asians and Chinese wearing masks. As pandemic in Asia slowed and Europe and America soared, people in Europe and the United States gradually believed that wearing masks help prevent the spread of the epidemic, and began to put on masks.


Some European countries have already asked people to wear masks when they go out. The United States was also considering recommending people wear masks in public. CNN reported that countries began to recommend wearing masks, a vindication of a tactic adopted in most Asian countries. The measure appears to have been borne out by a lower rate of infection and faster containment of outbreaks.


In view of the global scarcity of masks and other protective materials, President Tsai draws from the "hidden masks" as seen by the people standing in line for masks and donates them to countries severely impacted by the pandemic. The mask donation was announced at an opportunity time and place. Similarly, when the epidemic first broke out in mainland China, President Tsai claimed there was no shortage of supplying masks. Still, Premier Su issued a ban on the export of masks. The ban was imposed at a crucial point.


The people of Taiwan have never been stingy to donate for disaster relief. However, the Tsai administration’s ban on masks and the mask diplomacy executed at a crucial point demonstrate that while the pandemic has no borders, yet epidemic prevention remains full of politics.



Featured Editorial

Who Will Lead Global Cooperation Against Pandemic Without Borders?

United Daily News Editorial, April 3, 2020


Recently, President Tsai Ing-wen made an announcement that Taiwan would donate 10 million medical masks to support countries with severe outbreaks of coronavirus (COVID-19), in a display of unity to overcome this global challenge. This act of diplomacy generated divisive opinions given insufficient domestic supply but was also met with gratitude from the affected countries. Following this announcement, the President Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission tweeted that Taiwan’s actions provide evidence that unity is key to overcoming this pandemic.


United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recently identified the coronavirus pandemic as the worst global crisis since World War II and stated that only united can the world put forward a solid and effective response. While it may seem common sense to assert that cooperation is necessary for the fight against disease, politics often finds itself more important than professionalism. Unfortunately, what we are seeing is persistent friction along old political fault lines in cross-strait relations, U.S.-China relations, and overall international divides.


In this era of globalization, we benefit from the free flow of goods and people, but so too do we suffer the consequences of cross border spread of crime and disease. It is impossible for any one country to face down pandemic threats at this level,  more than ever before we see the need for a unified public response to issues that arise from the globalized landscape.


Globalization has come under attack by the coronavirus, but anti-globalization is certainly short-sighted and not the solution. In response to this pandemic, politicians across countries have locked down, consolidated power, and declared states of emergency. Some countries have begun to implement or were forced to respond to trade protectionism, blocking the shipment of goods to other countries. An example of this would be the U.S. Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Director Peter Navarro drafting an executive order to "buy American goods," reducing American dependence on Chinese medicines and medical supplies.


The global supply chain will indeed require serious re-examination, with more security measures put in place. That said, this does not mean that globalization should be altogether suspended and the exchange of people and goods be stopped.


During these turbulent times, vulnerable groups of low-paid workers and small and medium-sized enterprises are often first to suffer. Although some measures have been enacted as were put in place following the financial crisis of 2008, including lowering of interest rates and quantitative easing, it is important to note that this current crisis is different from a financial crisis. Injecting capital into the financial sector would, at most, save the stock market, not solve the problem as a whole.


The current economic downturn and unemployment are more serious than the financial crisis. The International Labor Organization estimates that global unemployment will be much higher than the estimated 25 million and surpass the 22 million unemployment caused by the financial crisis. However, Secretary-General Guterres said that we do not have a global plan to create an environment that can simultaneously suppress the epidemic and deal with these serious consequences.


The closure of the city and the shelter-in-place orders had naturally led to panic buying and food shortages, leading to trade protectionisms such as in the case of Vietnamese restriction on rice exports and Russian restriction on food exports. When the disease raged on in mainland China, it was during the spring harvest and there was fear of food shortages. Europe too closed the borders of the European Union, blocking workers in eastern Europe from their seasonal agricultural work. All this threatens to spike international food prices. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned that unless action is taken quickly, we all risk a food crisis.


The pandemic continues to escalate and the world is looking toward greater levels of cooperation. The G20 video conference recently hoped to solve this problem, but the final joint statement was mostly empty talk. The only specific outcome was that the countries committed to investing US$5 trillion to maintain global economic and financial stability and boost market confidence.


Faced with the impact of the pandemic, global cooperation is necessary, especially managed by a global leader. The United States was a global leader. Following the Second World War, America was a key player in leading nations in response to all manners of emergencies. However, since he took office, President Donald Trump has made clear: "America first," unabashedly displaying his nationalism. This time, the Trump administration has avoided a leadership role, failing to coordinate even with allies.


So, if not the United States, what about the countries of Europe? Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany is still under quarantine and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom has been diagnosed with the infection. What about China? In January and February, with the epicenter of the pandemic in Wuhan, circumstances have greatly weakened the legitimacy of the Communist government. The situation has since improved in March and April, and mainland China has widely publicized this development and sent doctors and medical equipment to Italy and other countries to enhance its international standing. However, the international community still doubts whether Beijing has concealed key facts and figures through the course of the pandemic.


What is even more worrying is that the world’s superpowers still blame each other. At the G7 meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo asked the joint statement to term the virus the "Wuhan virus", which was rejected by all countries. However, Zhao Lijian, spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, tweeted that "It may be the U.S. military which brought the virus to Wuhan," which is regarded as propaganda falsely asserted by China.  


The virus does not choose its patients and the pandemic recognizes no borders. Neither side of the Taiwan Strait can be completely isolated from the other, and no country can be alone. The pandemic requires cross-strait cooperation and global solidarity. However, cross-strait cooperation has become a political taboo and it appears that there is no one country can lead the global community. This is the real danger.



 This Week in Taiwan
The National Health Research Institutes announced that it has successfully developed with SARS anti-bodies a rapid screening agent able to detect coronavirus in 15 minutes.
(Photo from: China Times)

March 30: Former Premier and General Hau Pei-tsun passed away at the Tri-Service General Hospital in Taipei due to failure of multiple organs. He was 101 years old. Former Kuomintang (KMT) Deputy Chairman Hau Lung-pin, his son, commented: “For his whole life, my father (Hau Pei-tsun) endeavored to maintain Taiwan’s peace and security. This is his lifelong purpose and will before death.”

March 31: The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to spread. The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) set the standard for social distancing. Indoor distancing should be at least 1.5 meter, and outdoor distancing should be 1 meter. If two parties wear face masks correctly, they may be exempted from social distancing regulations. The CECC also urged the public to avoid public concerts and athletic games. Where the social distance of 1.5 meter cannot be effectively maintained, the owner should suspend business.

April 2: President Tsai Ing-wen announced on April 1 that Taiwan would donate 10 million masks to medical personnel in countries severely affected by the pandemic. President Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission tweeted publicly thanking Taiwan for donating 5.6 million surgical face masks to the European Union and member states. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that it will continue to fight the pandemic with the European Union and demonstrate that Taiwan can help.

April 2: Taiwan’s National Health Research Institutes announced that it has successfully developed a rapid screening agent for the coronavirus disease based on severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) anti-bodies. Results may be obtained in just 10 to 15 minutes.

April 4: The coronavirus pandemic failed to stop the enthusiasm of Taiwanese people traveling during the Qingming Festival long weekend. Crowds flooded major attractions, which violated social distancing regulations. For the first time, the CECC broadcasted nationwide messages, warning people to avoid popular travel destinations like the Kenting National Park and Huadong Valley.

April 5: The chief secretary of the Tourism Bureau, Ministry of Transportation and Communications, picked up his son at the airport during regular business hours. The son was diagnosed positive for coronavirus. Airport personnel of the Tourism Bureau, who handled the reception, also contracted and passed the coronavirus to a five-year-old son, causing classes at a kindergarten to be suspended. These events have stirred controversy. The chief secretary of the Tourism Bureau was reprimanded, and the Tourism Bureau Director Chou Yung-hui, who asked to be disciplined, was lowered to the rank of counselor.

Taiwan Weekly is a newsletter released every week by Fair Winds Foundation and Association of Foreign Relations that provides coverage and perspectives into the latest developments in Taiwan.

The conclusions and recommendations of any Taiwan Weekly article are solely those of its author(s), and do not reflect the views of the institutions that publish the newsletter.

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