Germany has begun easing the lockdown that was part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has set up an “emergency brake” to be deployed if the number of new confirmed cases rises above 50 people per 100,000. Reaching the threshold would result in a retightening of restrictions.
As of Monday, Taiwan had reached 36 consecutive days of no new domestic cases of COVID-19, indicating that local communities are safe for now, and the government has received praise for its handling of the crisis.
While managing the relaxing of lockdowns and restrictions at home, nations worldwide are looking into how to safely open their borders.
For example, Australia and New Zealand — tied not only by proximity of location and culture, but also by their successful containment of the novel coronavirus — have been discussing the possibility of establishing a “pandemic travel bubble” that would allow traffic between them.
Taiwan — which has had an exemplary response to the pandemic and is also relaxing restrictions — will face its own issues in opening its borders: the psychological impact of opening borders with nations that have had very different experiences.
Germany’s standard consists of a figure deemed “acceptable” and was arrived at by extrapolating statistics from prior outbreaks, such as influenza epidemics, the COVID-19 pandemic thus far and the moral debate over the cost to the economy versus human lives.
Taiwan should consider employing one of two standards: One based on the number of domestic influenza deaths last year and the other similar to Germany’s.
A rough calculation based on Germany’s standard for opening up its borders would fix a ceiling of 1,700 COVID-19 deaths for the year, while a standard based on the number of domestic influenza deaths last year would fix a ceiling of 270 COVID-19 deaths for the year.
Given Taiwan’s success thus far, neither of these is likely to be acceptable to most Taiwanese.
Taiwan could continue with strict border controls and require travelers entering the nation to undergo 14 days of isolation, but this would limit a whole range of economic activity.
Germany has had an outbreak of COVID-19 within its borders and the proposals of Merkel’s government represent an attempt to balance the epidemic crisis and an economic one.
A psychological compromise is inevitable, even if unwanted, as Taiwanese cannot rest on how safe they are, but must at some point relax restrictions on international travel in the interest of the economy, although whatever standard is used to balance the epidemic and economic costs might still be psychologically difficult to bear.
Are the public and the government prepared to discuss how to select a standard?
Tseng Kuo-lung is technical director at Broadmind IPR and Law Office in Hsinchu.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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