Although Taiwan has not recorded a local case of COVID-19 infection in more than 100 days, a heated dispute over whether the government should conduct mass testing on all members of the public or all international arrivals in Taiwan has erupted.
The dispute began due to a series of recent imported cases, the “precision screening” conducted by Changhua County Public Health Bureau — in which a teenager who returned from the US was confirmed positive, but did not experience symptoms — and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) leadership’s failed attempt to unite 14 KMT-controlled municipalities to perform mass testing on all travelers arriving in those areas.
Disease prevention is a public health issue and a matter of medical expertise. It has nothing to do with political ideology and stance and should be rationally discussed.
Regrettably, the dispute over mass testing is built upon clear-cut stances and staunch disagreements between the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the KMT, which each exists in their own impenetrable echo chamber. This is worrying, as the dispute and the attacks have evolved into an intense confrontation bordering on populism.
Infecting more than 25.4 million and killing more than 850,000 around the world, COVID-19 is the most serious contagious disease since the Spanish flu in 1918. The US has been hit hardest, with more than 6 million infections and more than 183,000 deaths, but the pandemic shows no sign of slowing down. Severely affecting the real economy and everyday life, the impact of the pandemic also intensifies and widens the scope of a US-China confrontation.
In this once-in-a-century disaster, Taiwan stands out like a beacon in a sea of suffering thanks to its outstanding disease prevention performance, offering the world a gleam of hope. As the number of global infections continues to rise, the life of Taiwanese has — mostly — returned to normal.
Apart from large-scale sports events and the lively atmosphere of artistic performances, the upsurge of “revenge travel” and shopping sprees also increases domestic demand and partially compensates for the tourism sector’s loss of overseas visitors. Exports have returned to positive growth, with the nation’s high-tech sectors showing their indispensable value in the global supply chain, spurring the TAIEX on to record highs.
Taiwan’s disease prevention achievement underscores the importance of democracy, freedom and geopolitics in a situation of regional tensions. All these achievements are made possible by the joint efforts of all Taiwanese, and the glory belongs to everyone living in the nation.
Having been cold-shouldered and alienated by international society for a long time, Taiwan is finally beginning to receive global attention and transforming into a crucial partner in the global alliance for universal values and public health, as evidenced by the new height of US-Taiwan relations and the friendliness shown by the West. Such recognition further enables Taiwanese to reach new heights of confidence and national identity.
The dispute over disease prevention policy should be based on the acknowledgment of the government’s disease prevention performance. Only by rejecting political polarization and conspiracy theories can people unite as one, and only by discarding prejudice and bigotry can they have a rational discussion that helps consolidate and magnify the nation’s disease prevention results.
Only by doing so can Taiwanese calmly examine the dispute over mass testing on all members of the public and all arriving travelers.
Conducting mass testing on all members of he public is not necessary, as there are no new local cases. Even if there are asymptomatic cases, there would not be enough virus to be transmittable. There is no medical basis for rashly conducting mass testing on all members of the public, and doing so could cause a panic.
In the current stage, mass testing would be harmful to the prevention effort, and unless there is community infection, there is no need to do so.
There is no doubt that the greatest controversy is whether everyone entering the nation should be tested.
The KMT leadership has tried hard to unite local governments to manipulate the issue, and its mayors and county commissioners generally endorse testing of all arriving travelers.
Nevertheless, most local KMT government leaders have made it clear that they are willing to follow the central government, meaning that the party’s attempts to politicize the issue has failed.
Imported cases are the most likely to blow a hole in Taiwan’s disease prevention effort, especially as people have not yet grasped the full picture of the novel coronavirus.
No conclusion has been reached as to how the world should contain or treat the disease, nor do scientists have a definite guide to research and develop a vaccine. From this perspective, the issue of testing of all arriving travelers requires more careful deliberation, discussion and thorough consideration rather than outright opposition.
Concerns over high costs incurred by mass testing could be dispelled by asking the travelers to pay the testing fee. The initial decision not to test international arrivals has been partially changed due to the soaring number of imported cases from the Philippines, showing that the policy is subject to evaluation and adjustments on a rolling basis.
The government does not need to impose constraints on itself by saying an absolute “no” to testing all travelers. By sticking to the 14-day quarantine regulations and asking travelers to pay the cost, mass testing could be an extra protection.
Taiwan’s successful containment of COVID-19 has enabled the nation to break through the isolation imposed by China and develop a friendly relationship with the international community — an achievement that should be cherished and protected by all Taiwanese.
As the pandemic continues to spread across the globe, whether Taiwan could extend its success, or become a victim to the virus would depend on the accuracy of its disease prevention policy. At this crucial moment, political parties in the legislature and the medical disciplines should propose countermeasures against the pandemic.
The DPP government, whose disease prevention efforts have been praised by the public and widely acknowledged internationally, should take a more confident and generous attitude toward the questions posed by people holding different opinions.
The opposition, and the KMT in particular, should rid themselves of partisan confrontation and political manipulation. Only a joint effort of the central and local governments would ensure continued successful disease prevention and turn Taiwan into a blessed land in a chaotic world.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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