Because I am getting more and more questions from the Czech Republic about COVID-19, I asked my amazing assistant to publish here my experience about the epidemic in Taiwan. Taiwan belongs to a list of countries that have managed the COVID-19 epidemic. I was naive to think, and hope, that this precious experience and know-how would be adopted by other countries, or eventually further developed as a global protection system for prevention and management of the disease by the World Health Organization (WHO). Europe was indeed given a chance to learn. Taiwan is isolated because of pressure from China, and thus denied the right to be a member of the WHO! It can only rely on itself and thus cannot afford to underestimate the situation. I follow with horror how Europe remained unprepared, given that from the very beginning of the epidemic in China, the possibility of it turning into a pandemic had been discussed. Taiwan did not underestimate the gravity of the situation, its government reacted promptly, to the point, with the help of a team of experts and precise instructions. Taiwan’s top epidemiologist, Chen Chien-jen, who is a doctor, a scientist and an expert on infectious diseases, headed the crisis center and took the lead. The government listened to his orders. He spoke every day, and was relayed daily by Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen who won the presidential race in January for the next four years, and by Prime Minister Su Tseng-chang. The public service TV channel has a dedicated slot to inform all citizens regularly, and in a relevant manner. The Taiwanese didn’t have to spend their entire day dealing with fake news, conflicting or misleading information. They were provided detailed information about every infected person, including where that person had been, with whom it had been in contact, and about their health status.
A majority of patients have recovered, as health services are of high quality, and this is one of the government’s priorities. The country experienced the SARS epidemic and has learnt that it shouldn’t ignore any detail in the process. Life goes on normally, with some limitations, but with the conviction that it is all under control. I didn’t experience the slightest sign of panic or hoarding of shops. The peak of the epidemic, which will hit Europe now, happened here in January and February. Taiwan immediately provided masks and disinfection products for each citizen, allowing three pieces for each person. Across the country, masks are available for a single unified price of the equivalent of five Czech crowns ( € 0.20). As the Prime Minister stated, it is strictly illegal to resell masks under severe penalty. Tests for the virus are free for all, no one is supposed to make money out of people’s misery. In South Korea, they put in place drive-in testing for drivers who don’t need to come out of their cars: they simply pull down their window and get tested on the spot. In emergency hospitals (24 of them were established across the country), only two persons could be present at the same time, to avoid crowds in hospitals. Public transportation was in no way restricted. The subway was regularly disinfected, as well as trains, buses, and planes. No one goes out without a mask, and for public events, chairs are displayed in a way to maintain a minimal distance between people. Restaurant, theaters remain open, and public events carry on.
These are the instructions we followed:
- Avoid crowded places
- Do not go out without a mask
- If you cough, then do not cough into your hands
- Pay heightened attention to your hands and their hygiene, carry small doses of disinfectant with you
- Do not touch your eyes
- Do not shake hands
- Check on the elderly (In case of problems, please call hotlines and assistance will be provided.)
- Drink only warm or hot drinks (at the same temperature as of your body, as cold drinks weaken the body).
- Make sure you intake enough antioxidants ( Vitamine C, fruits and vegetables).
- Maintain a distance with others when using public transportation
- Do not touch ramps or bars in public transportation with your hands, use your arm instead
- Make sure your throat and lips get hydrated regularly. At least every 15 minutes, absorb liquids. If the virus gets inside your mouth, water or any other liquid will splash it through the esophagus into your stomach, where gastric acid will eliminate it. If you don’t drink a lot of water regularly, the virus can enter the airways and lungs.
These recommendations are precautionary measures.
What matters most now is being careful, but not panicking. Ironically, I am now in a safe country. To all the people who call me and tell me to come back to the Czech Republic, I reply that everyone should, on the contrary, move to Taiwan. It is a mature, functioning democracy. A democracy that proves it can operate in times of crisis. The invisible coronavirus, as we witness, is a social virus, because it revealed the weaknesses of politicians and of our system.
Essay by Radka Demeraková
Translation by Filip Noubel and Jan Faber