The severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak has not only had an impact on the national health care system, but has also triggered panic among many people. The fears provoked by the disease are changing people's lifestyles and behavior. Since martial law was lifted in 1987, Taiwan has made significant progress in the protection of individual rights and freedoms. A popular Mandarin motto from the 1980s -- "As long as I like to do it, why shouldn't I?" (
To limit the spread of SARS, the government has issued mandatory quarantine notices to people who are suspected to have come in contact with SARS patients. Such measures are in accordance with the Communicable Disease Prevention Law (
Quarantine measures at Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital were immediately met with protests from its staff and their families. Hsinchu City Mayor Lin Junq-tzer (
We have also heard frequent reports about people violating home quarantine rules. On Sunday, Minister of the Interior Yu Cheng-hsien (
Those people placed under home quarantine must temporarily sacrifice their freedom for the sake of public health. The success of quarantine policies depends on cooperation from those under restriction. But that the necessity of the quarantine measures must be fully explained and understood. If those under quarantine cannot restrain themselves, then social pressure may build up in their neighborhood and constrain those people's wanton behavior.
Old habits die hard. The nation urgently needs to rebuild its crumbling social ethics. But such a task takes time. What's most important right now is strict enforcement of the law and of public-health restrictions. The government has been slow in imposing large-scale quarantine measures. Quarantine orders have also been slow in reaching the people concerned. Supervision of the enforcement has been weak. Only limited measures have been taken to help meet the basic daily needs of those under quarantine.
Providing clear and timely information is of paramount importance. Strict enforcement of quarantine measures is vital. If the government cannot follow Singapore's example of using surveillance equipment, then it should enlist community help to monitor the enforcement. It is also critical that the government ensure that those under quarantine receive the necessary medical supervision, food and cleaning supplies and trash pick-up that will make their confinement bearable. If that means hiring temporary workers to make supply runs for those in quarantine then that is what must be done.