As the COVID-19 pandemic spins out of control, many parts of the world are experiencing shortages of medical masks and other protective equipment.
I am studying in Washington state, which at the time of writing is the US state that has suffered the largest number of deaths from the novel coronavirus.
The week before last, UW Medicine — an organization that includes the University of Washington School of Medicine and associated medical centers and clinics — sent its volunteers an e-mail asking the public to make masks and donate them to hospitals. Attached to the message was a mask donation hotline and a video about how to make your own mask.
According to the Washington Post, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced that there is a shortage of masks and related medical supplies, and it suggests that if healthcare workers do not have enough medical masks, they should wear homemade masks, bandanas or scarves instead.
Hospitals around the US have sent out messages in search of people who can donate masks.
It comes as quite a shock to see how quickly US hospitals and healthcare workers have run into such shortages.
The US government’s slow reaction compares poorly with the proactive measures taken by the Taiwanese government. Taiwan’s mask rationing system ensures that everyone can obtain masks.
At the same time, members of the Taiwan Machine Tool & Accessory Builders’ Association have voluntarily established a mask task force to build extra mask production lines as efficiently as possible, and to assemble and test mask-making machines.
These industrialists have won applause from the public for their efforts, which should soon make it possible to manufacture tens of millions of masks per day. Their initiative is a tangible contribution to supplying the medical equipment needed to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 18, Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) and American Institute in Taiwan Director Brent Christensen signed a cooperation agreement on developing a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. The agreement includes an exchange arrangement under which Taiwan gives the US 100,000 masks per week, while the US sets aside raw materials that Taiwan needs to make protective clothing.
COVID-19 involves many unknowns. The fight against it might have to be a protracted war of resistance. Apart from exporting masks, exporting mask-manufacturing machines and production lines is another way of solving the shortage of masks.
If countries that do not have enough masks could use Taiwan-made mask machines and run their own production lines to quickly meet demand in their respective markets, it would show the whole world how Taiwan can help in the midst of the COVID-19 storm.
Martina Tu is a doctoral candidate in law at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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