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How Taiwan is curbing outbreaks without strict lockdowns

Taiwan, where there are fewer than 10 locally transmitted cases a day, has favored a less heavy-handed approach than in China, instead raising awareness through public health campaigns, like the daily briefing.

By: New York Times |
August 17, 2021 1:33:36 pm
How Taiwan is curbing outbreaks without strict lockdownsPeople wear face masks to help protect against the spread of coronavirus cross an intersection in Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)

Written by Amy Chang Chien

The most popular YouTube shows in Taiwan are pop music videos, clips of video gamers and, in recent months, the health minister’s daily updates on the coronavirus.

The briefings by the heath minister, Chen Shih-chung, in which he and other officials take questions from the public about the island’s latest virus efforts, have become a hit, with hundreds of thousands of people tuning in each afternoon. The local edition of GQ called him a “minister of steel.” He uses infographics and memes, including one of a Health Ministry worker’s dog, to convey news about cases in Taiwan and how members of the public can stay vigilant.

Taiwan, where there are fewer than 10 locally transmitted cases a day, has favored a less heavy-handed approach than in China, instead raising awareness through public health campaigns, like the daily briefing. Masks are required in public spaces, and people typically abide by social distancing rules when they go hiking, running or even to swimming pools.

Through most of the pandemic, Taiwan has thrived as a bubble of normalcy and has mostly avoided strict lockdowns by imposing rigorous contact tracing and quarantines for foreign visitors.

When it faced a surge of cases in May, rather than forcing mass testing and complete lockdowns like the Chinese government did, the Taiwanese government kept offices and shops open and kept public transportation running, but at lower capacity. In recent weeks, those restrictions have lifted, with indoor dining, gyms and tourism sites opening, but many people have stayed home except for essential activities out of concern about another wave.

As of Monday, around 39% of Taiwan’s 23.5 million residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to a New York Times tracker, and a locally developed vaccine will be available starting next week.

China, which claims the self-ruling democracy as its territory, has been more forceful in response to recent flare-ups of cases driven by the more contagious delta variant. Beijing has punished dozens of officials, saying that they mishandled local outbreaks, and has rejected suggestions that it abandon its “zero case” policy.

A local government in the southern Chinese province of Yunnan closed all roads leaving the city after three new locally transmitted cases were reported there last month. In hard-hit eastern cities, including Nanjing and Yangzhou, authorities have conducted at least seven rounds of mass testing and residents have been ordered to stay home.

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