The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) has been giving daily COVID-19 updates for almost four months, and on several occasions when major developments have arisen, the news conferences have attracted large numbers of viewers.
The entire nation is anxious about the pandemic, and interest in the latest news has become a part of daily life. Watching the center’s daily news conferences has become something of a national ritual.
The pandemic has stabilized within Taiwan due to the admirable efforts of each person living in the nation conducting themselves with the utmost responsibility, and in certain cases making considerable sacrifices within their lives.
However, the current lockdown cannot continue indefinitely, and there will eventually come a day when Taiwan will have to open up again.
The nation has been lulled into a sense of security about having thus far kept the worst of the pandemic at bay, and there is a danger that Taiwanese might have let their guard down as a consequence.
During the CECC news conference on Sunday last week, a reporter asked the center to confirm whether a research team from Stanford University was seeking to work with Taiwan on testing a protocol for safe international travel during the pandemic.
There has also been talk of some countries forming “pandemic travel bubbles” and air corridors between themselves.
These developments suggest that reopening borders is an unavoidable trend, but questions remain over when, how, to what degree and with whom this reopening is to occur.
In Taiwan, people cannot rest on the laurels of their own pandemic response success.
It is good that the daily CECC news conferences keep everyone up to speed on the number of new confirmed cases and deaths, but Taiwanese cannot close themselves off to what is happening in other countries.
Since Taiwan cannot avoid reopening its borders, it is important that the public has access to open and transparent information, in real time, so that they can prepare to re-engage with the world.
The set routine for the center’s daily news conferences is to begin by reporting the latest domestic developments.
However, talk of the imminent reopening of borders is largely omitted — perhaps because it would cause an increased sense of unease within the populace that would not be conducive to restoring the fragile economy.
The news conferences should include updates on the pandemic in other countries, as well as major medical and public health discoveries.
Naturally, the focus of these overseas updates should start with news of the nations that Taiwanese regularly travel to and from. These countries can be easily identified from information readily available in annual immigration statistics, and the ones most important to Taiwan should be prioritized in the reports.
One of the most important contributions that the CECC has made during the pandemic — and perhaps one of the reasons that Taiwanese are so proud of how the nation has handled the situation thus far — is the transparent and prompt transmission of information about the pandemic, and how this has bred trust and reduced anxiety.
If the public are to be confident in the future reopening of Taiwan’s borders, they need to start by encouraging it to take an interest in what is happening elsewhere in the world.
Chang Yueh-han is an adjunct assistant professor in Shih Hsin University’s department of journalism.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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