After early success, Taiwan strives to withdraw from the “zero COVID” policy | Coronavirus pandemic news

Taipei, Taiwan- Taiwan quickly decided to close the border at the beginning of the pandemic Earned it a low mortality rate And a sense of normalcy that the world envy.

Some experts said that in the past two years, despite the widespread availability of vaccines, the health authorities continue to pursue an isolationist “zero COVID-19” policy, and this autonomous island may become a victim of its early success.

Chi Chunhui, professor and director of the Global Health Center at Oregon State University, said: “Taiwanese-let me use a strong word-‘spoiled’ the good life, so the tolerance for outbreaks in any community is very low.” , Told Al Jazeera.

Taiwan’s border restrictions are still some of the strictest in the world. Even vaccinated immigrants, including citizens, must be subject to a 14-day hotel quarantine-although Hong Kong and mainland China maintain a stricter 21-day hotel quarantine system.

In May of this year, the authorities closed the border to anyone without citizenship or an existing alien residence permit (equivalent to a US green card), which caused headaches for foreigners with job opportunities or school placement.

Although the authorities have recently begun to allow foreign workers, students, scholars and professionals with three-year “gold card” visas to return to China, as Taiwan prepares for the influx of citizens from overseas before, the entry window will be closed again in mid-December . Chinese New Year on February 1st.

In some cases, foreigners who have already lived in Taiwan are forced to leave indefinitely because their visas need to leave the country and re-enter before they can be renewed. In other cases, foreign residents face the prospect of living under an ambiguous visa amnesty, and the rules related to COVID-19 seem to change based on specific circumstances.

Taiwan reports one of the world’s lowest number of COVID cases and deaths during the pandemic [File: Ann Wang/Reuters]

Daniel Johnson is an Anglo-South African technology entrepreneur who moved to Taiwan on a working holiday visa a year ago. He is one of those in trouble.

Johnson is fully in line with the government’s desire to attract foreigners, and he must apply for a 30-day “extension” every month. Each time he had to tell officials that he felt that it was not safe to return to the UK and gave up his residence permit and National Health Insurance card. Most foreigners are eligible to apply after staying continuously for six months.

“Getting a visa on arrival is enough. The difficult thing is to find out the renewal of different visas, because each visa has its own nuances and things have changed,” Johnson told Al Jazeera. “But the file does not represent this. I kind of assume that it is a multilingual document. In some cases it does exist, but in many cases it does not exist at all or is very old.”

Like many foreigners, Johnson found that immigration and consular officials did not have enough leeway or information to deal with COVID-related changes, and they often got different answers to questions depending on the date.

According to industry organizations such as the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham), in some cases, borders have been quietly opened to foreign professionals, executives, and experts who have successfully applied for emergency travel exemptions through their companies.

Andrew Wylegala, Chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce, said that these special applications and special visa approvals after case-by-case review have been used in a range of industries for experts and rotating executives required on the scene in Taiwan. The system is described as “welcome” but not ideal.

“Some people worry that it is a bit temporary, just because it may vary from department to department, the timetable may not be completely clear, the standards listed are a bit vague, or the process is difficult to complete,” Wylegala said.

Wylegala said that in the long run, Taiwan may lose commercial and trade agreements with reopened neighboring countries.

‘Conservative mode’

Although COVID-19 has affected industries such as small businesses and tourism, Taiwan’s economy has experienced strong overall growth in the past year, driven by the semiconductor and technology industries.

Hong-Jen Chang, who served as the director of the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1999 to 2000, told Al Jazeera: “People have not seen this harm our overall economy, only business travelers, tourists, and those who are able to travel.”

With the December referendum and local elections for key positions such as the mayor of Taipei in 2022 looming, and as the media and Taiwan’s main opposition parties continue to emphasize the danger of the virus, the government is considered to have little incentive to open up.

“There is a perfect Taiwanese idiom for this:’The performer wants to end the performance, not the audience,'” said Chi, a professor at Oregon State University. “Even if policy makers are considering and planning to relax and open up, they know that audience Taiwanese have extremely low tolerance for any outbreaks, and even minor outbreaks tend to push them towards a more conservative model.”

Even after a May outbreakAccording to data from the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths are below 17,000 and 848, respectively, which is still the lowest in the world.

“From international standards, what happened in Taiwan in May and June was very mild, but it was considered very serious in Taiwan,” Chi said. “This public sentiment puts undue pressure on policymakers and politicians.”

Due to the delay of the international vaccine initiative COVAX, after a vaccine shortage earlier this year, Taiwan has gradually Make up for shortfalls with donations Medigin vaccines from the United States, Japan, Lithuania, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic and their domestic production.

According to data from Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center, the vaccination rate for the first dose of vaccine reached 77%, and the vaccination rate for both times reached about 50%.

Although it is expected to reach near-maximum vaccine coverage within a few weeks, the authorities have little indication that it will reopen soon.

Former CDC director Zhang said that Taiwan will eventually need to open up, but officials are in a difficult position to weigh health issues with the economy and public opinion.

He said the authorities can relax some travel restrictions by strengthening the testing of immigrants from overseas. But this will involve creating a more complex system that may be difficult to communicate with the public.

“When you say you can’t tolerate a case, it’s difficult to design a system,” Chang said. “It’s feasible, but [government] May not get public support. So this is the problem. Because we are a democratic country, right? Not like China. “

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