Taiwan, one of the few nations that has effectively contained COVID-19, is already stockpiling supplies for the next pandemic.
The reserves are to include energy, food and daily provisions, and medical supplies, such as masks, personal protective equipment and ventilators, Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Lin Chuan-neng (林全能) said in an interview.
The government is to review inventories and adjust as needed, while also investing in domestic production of critical goods.
Photo: Cheng I-hwa, Bloomberg
“One lesson Taiwan learned from fighting against COVID-19 is that the government must have sufficient supplies of needed goods for the public,” Lin said. “We need to have plans for that to prepare in advance.”
Due to pressure from China, Taiwan is excluded from the WHO and other global bodies that have focused on the pandemic. As a result, it had to fend for itself, offering valuable lessons for nations that would aspire to do the same.
Since it reported its first case on Jan. 21, Taiwan has registered fewer than 500 infections and just seven deaths — without closing schools or shutting down the economy.
The success is especially remarkable given its proximity and close ties to China, where officials have been playing whack-a-mole with domestic hot spots since the pandemic took hold in Wuhan late last year.
The Chinese government this week locked down seven residential areas in Beijing after the resurgent outbreak in the city grew to more than 100 reported cases.
Officials credit part of Taiwan’s success to its early decision to stockpile and distribute masks.
The government in January expropriated all domestically produced masks and banned exports. Troops joined production lines and the government paid for additional equipment.
Within four months, companies increased production from 2 million to 20 million masks per day, enabling the nation to ration and distribute masks to residents on a regular basis.
“We will use the experience of storing masks to build up supply chains of other necessities,” Lin said. “[The] government will take a more active role in building up stockpiles of strategic goods to stabilize supplies and market prices.”
For some domestic companies, the pandemic has already been a windfall.
Shares of Apex Medical Corp (雃博), which makes ventilators, are close to a four-year high. Shares of mask suppliers KNH Enterprise Co (康那香) and Universal Inc (恆大) extended their rise after the nation lifted its months-long ban on mask exports on June 1.
Stores of flour, soybean oil, canned food, instant noodles and toilet paper are to be increased from current levels, which the Ministry of Economic Affairs estimates would last one to three months.
The 90-day reserve of crude oil is sufficient, but state-backed CPC Corp, Taiwan (台灣中油) could be called on to increase imports of natural gas. Other agencies would be studying their reserves and getting ready to acquire more.
In her inaugural address last month, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said the initiative would be one of the nation’s six economic priorities.
Over the next four years, the nation would establish “strategic stockpile industries that can ensure the steady provision of critical supplies,” she said.
Doctors, epidemiologists and virologists have warned that pandemics such as COVID-19 are likely to become more common. An estimated 650,000 to 840,000 animal diseases have the capacity to infect and sicken humans, which is how experts think COVID-19 first took hold.
Taiwan’s stockpiling initiative would also support the populace in the event of a natural disaster, which, like pandemics, are expected to become more frequent.
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