Tue, Dec 25, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Risking ‘two sides, same disease’

By Hu Wen-hui 胡文輝

Slogans such as “the two sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one family” and Kaohsiung mayor-elect Han Kuo-yu’s (韓國瑜) campaign slogan “get the tourists in and sell our goods” are reverberating across Taiwan, but the sad thing is that viruses will probably get here first and “the two sides of the Taiwan Strait will have the same diseases.”

A severe African swine fever epidemic has broken out in China, with 22 of the country’s 34 provinces affected. China’s neighbors are on alert, with Taiwan on high alert, as cross-strait exchanges of people and goods are common.

Disease prevention is like fighting a war and when there is a new virus, it is of course a matter of national security. Some pan-blue camp legislators and media outlets are still making irresponsible remarks and are even blocking the government’s attempts to bolster disease prevention measures.

Whether they do what they do intentionally or because they are ignorant, they are still making sure that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have the same diseases.

If African swine fever enters Taiwan, it will have a destructive impact on the hog, meat, manufacturing and distribution industries, as well as a direct impact on millions of people working in those industries. More than 20 million pork eaters will be unable to eat locally produced pork and the massive harm to Taiwan will be almost unimaginable.

Over the past 20 years, viruses that emerged in China have twice struck in Taiwan. Twenty-one years ago, it was foot-and-mouth disease and 16 years ago, it was severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

In 1997, foot-and-mouth disease took a heavy toll on the hog industry. It had an annual output of NT$90 billion at the time, but was almost completely destroyed.

The only effective way to eradicate the virus was to kill infected pigs. The military assisted in the cull and students from National Chung Hsing University, National Taiwan University, National Pingtung University of Science and Technology and other universities took part in disease prevention measures under the guidance of professors. In the end, their joint efforts ended the spread of the disease.

It was a bloody undertaking and everyone cried: the hog farmers, those who killed the pigs and the pigs, and the experience left an indelible impression on everyone who participated in the preventive effort.

Viruses can be difficult to discover, and although a major epidemic was avoided, in 1999, there was yet another medium-sized foot-and-mouth epidemic. A genetic study of the virus showed a 99 percent similarity with a Chinese foot-and-mouth virus, leading to suspicion that the virus entered Taiwan via pork smuggled from China.

Today, the virus still has not been completely eradicated. It was only by July 1 this year that authorities said there was no longer a need to vaccinate against the virus. In July next year, they are to submit an application to the World Organization for Animal Health to have Taiwan removed from the list of areas with foot-and-mouth infections.

The SARS crisis in 2002 and 2003 also began in China, but Beijing covered it up. Although Taipei issued warnings and exhortations, there were people who did not comply, like former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) — Taipei mayor at the time — who was not very cooperative with government warnings.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top