Taiwan to resume economic activities with the world soon, says Health Minister

Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung said the move will be balanced against "reasonable" restrictions.
Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung said the move will be balanced against "reasonable" restrictions.PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI - Taiwan will resume major economic and trade activities soon as the first step in lifting international curbs amid reports of no locally transmitted coronavirus cases on the island for 24 consecutive days.

But the move will be balanced against "reasonable" restrictions, Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung told foreign news outlets on Wednesday (May 6).

Mr Chen, who also heads the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), noted that while Taiwan's visa-exemption programmes are on pause and its borders closed to keep the Covid-19 pandemic at bay, "we are a global village, and it is impossible for all countries to go on lockdown completely".

As of Wednesday, Taiwan has gone for 24 days without reporting any locally transmitted cases.

As a result, it is deciding to relax domestic curbs on professional sports games and cultural events, the minister said. Already, its professional baseball league has kicked off its first game in April.

In the meantime, the CECC is promoting its "Covid-prevention new life exercise", which aims to inculcate in Taiwan's citizens good hygiene habits such as frequent washing of hands and social distancing to reduce the risks of community transmission.

"We're going to see how well people are following the exercise and draw up some goals accordingly," said Mr Chen. "For example, the sports and cultural events we are opening up will take care of our mental well-being in addition to our physical health."

But the first step in lifting international restrictions will not be focused on leisure but on major trade and economic activities, said Mr Chen, "After all, it's impossible to completely change globalised industry chains."

The next step will be humanitarian efforts, he added, "but travel will come later".

 
 
 

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the National Development Council are collecting data on economic activities that cannot be carried out via video conferencing with other countries.

It will help determine which activities are to resume first and with which countries.

Taiwan is also currently focused on the upcoming virtual World Health Assembly on May 18, an event the government has been campaigning internationally to attend as an observer.

When asked, Mr Chen said Taiwan would welcome any discussion with China that would pave the way for it to participate in the meeting.

"Taiwan's only principle is to not get belittled...everyone can reach a consensus if (Taiwan) isn't belittled - something that will be beneficial to the people of the world and both sides," he added.

Taiwan reported that as of Wednesday, it has 439 confirmed Covid-19 cases and six deaths.

The numbers show "Taiwan's aggressive efforts to control the epidemic are working", the minister said.

But it needs first-hand information on the outbreak, he added, as he blasted the World Health Organisation for excluding Taiwan from taking part in worldwide discussions on the pandemic because of political pressure from China.

"All second-hand information slows down Taiwan's reactions and will distort the judgments we make," he said, likening the island's exclusion from WHO to the parable of the Blind Men and an Elephant, as it tries to figure out the epidemic without enough information.

"If everyone speaks up about the fragments of information they have, experts can piece them together into a message that can be helpful for humankind. Isn't this what the WHO was founded to do?"

 
 
 

Mr Chen also acknowledged that Taiwan's health authorities had made several blunders since the virus landed on its shores.

He identified three main missteps from which it has drawn lessons.

These are the initial mask shortage in January, the delay in shutting Taiwan's borders to foreign visitors after the virus outbreak in Europe, and the navy's recent handling of a coronavirus cluster on board a naval vessel after it returned from Palau, an Oceania country that is an ally of Taiwan.