The crisis brought by severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) has affected Taiwan in a way beyond the simple relationship between a disease and its victims.
In the fight against viruses, humans cannot apply the same method they have used to combat bacteria because the mechanisms and modes of transmission are completely different. Humans can only adopt the prevention and isolation approach and try to peacefully coexist with the virus before finding out ways to defeat the enemy or coexist with it.
For example, the development of vaccines is a balanced mode humanity has found to guard against viruses and live together with them.
Although the SARS impact on Taiwan is partly decided by the ailment itself, we should have the ability to minimize the outbreak. In this battle between two life forms, the government should clarify its functions and the role it should play.
The people of Taiwan believe that if the SARS outbreak spins out of control, the efforts we have made over the past decades will be reduced to ashes. Our lives, industrial economy, culture, medical health and future development might even regress to a certain starting point. The resulting social problems, psychological obstacles and stagnant development will become a burden and catastrophe shared by the government and people.
In addition to the frontline prevention work, the basic principle in containing SARS should be to redefine the scope of activities of SARS patients to avoid making human bodies carriers of the virus. This must depend on the top authority in human society -- government power.
Now the government should turn itself into a SARS-fighting government and fully empower its agencies with administrative functions, enabling itself to invest all the energy and capability into the war against SARS. Both central and local governments should be clearly aware of their mission amid the crisis and play their roles to the best of their ability. Otherwise, the government might be ultimately paralyzed, sinking the country into a state of anarchy.
The government must make itself a virus-killing warrior. It should decide whether to issue state emergency decrees or integrate various forces vertically or horizontally to contain the epidemic. We must keep in mind that only when we transform the government into a SARS-fighting army can Taiwan avoid the gravest damage within a short period of time.
Tzeng Kuei-hai is chairman of the Southern Taiwan Society and a practising physician.
Translated by Jackie Lin