Taiwan has embraced cuddly mascots and humor to ease public anxiety and educate on best practices amid concern over COVID-19.
Images of cute animals have featured in daily social media updates from government agencies to tackle disinformation and prevent the spread of infections.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare has deployed a cartoon “spokesdog” — a shiba inu called Zongchai (總柴) — that has proved a hit, with hashtags of his name going viral and posts shared hundreds of thousands of times.
Photo: Screen grab from Ministry of Health and Welfare’s Facebook page
Recent contributions have included advice on hygiene and quarantine regulations, as well as reminding people to use masks judiciously given the ongoing shortages since the virus emerged in China.
“Leave face masks for the people who need them, frequently wash your hands with soap, reduce touching your eyes, nose and mouth with your hands,” read one update.
In a Valentine’s Day message, Zongchai offered practical advice for dating during an outbreak, from regular hand washing to staying sober and safe sex.
The post ended with a question: “What if I am single?” to which the pup quipped: “Stay home then.”
The ministry has rolled out a pigeon in a facemask to announce entry restrictions on foreigners with recent travel history to China, adopting the slogan “Virus out, safety in.”
The Ministry of Economic Affairs plumped for a goose when it announced that rumors of disposable paper meal boxes running out were “so quacking exaggerated.”
The message deployed a homophone where the word for the noise a goose makes sounds similar to the first character for the word “exaggerated” in Mandarin.
The government has been deft at deploying memes to win public support.
For instance, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) took to his social media accounts in cartoon form to warn against panic-buying toilet paper.
“We only have one butt, don’t hoard, don’t trust rumors,” the post read.
Once again, a clever homophone was deployed. In Mandarin, the first characters for “hoard” and “butt” are pronounced the same.
The approach contrasts with China, where authorities have tapped their well-oiled propaganda powers to wage a “people’s war” against a virus, which has killed nearly 1,800 people.
State media has heralded the importance of patriotism to tackle the outbreak in a campaign reminiscent of Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) cries to mobilize the masses.
“To visit each other is to kill each other,” read one slogan in a quarantined district in Hubei Province, the epicenter of the outbreak. “To get together is to commit suicide.”
Taiwan moved swiftly against the outbreak, quickly restricting and then banning arrivals from China.
The nation on Sunday recorded its first death. It has kept confirmed infections to just 22 as of yesterday.
There was brief panic buying of masks before authorities limited each person to just two every seven days using National Health Insurance cards.
Taiwan has also restricted the number of masks a person can take abroad to 250.
Last week, the coast guard stopped a fishing boat that was allegedly attempting to smuggle out 71,000 masks.
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