My husband and I waited with trepidation beneath the neon lights of the arrival corridor at Taiwan’s important worldwide airport, hoping we might go the ultimate pandemic hurdle after an epic month-long journey to see household for the primary time since COVID emerged.
All 68 passengers arriving on flight SQ878 from Singapore had been allotted a blue sticker, with a quantity to show prominently on our arms.
It matched the tube assigned to our nasal swabs from a considerably deep COVID PCR take a look at we acquired as quickly as we disembarked and which might determine our destiny. A optimistic end result meant quarantine in a authorities facility, a unfavourable would permit us to isolate in consolation at dwelling in Taipei.
I used to be quantity 46, and in my jet-lagged haze, it felt like a situation from a type of benevolent Squid Game.
Even of their white and purple hazmat fits, the Taiwanese well being officers had a pleasant, welcoming manner, however as they all of the sudden started strolling up and down with a clipboard, wanting with goal at everybody’s arms, I felt a shiver of nerves.
We had examined unfavourable earlier than departure, however may we have now caught COVID on the aircraft?
A lady sitting a number of rows to the precise was approached by the hazmat fits and discreetly led away behind a white display. Not fairly the brutal elimination seen in Squid Game, however nonetheless ominous.
Then a tannoy buzzed to life – “thank you for your cooperation. You can now proceed,” stated a voice in Chinese and English. The different 67 of us flocked, relieved, in direction of the immigration desk, baggage declare and quarantine taxis the place our instances, garments and soles of our sneakers have been liberally sprayed with disinfectant.
Taiwan, together with China and Hong Kong, is among the final remaining outposts on this planet to require quarantine for all worldwide arrivals.
For the primary two years of the pandemic, its technique of closing the borders to all however residents and everlasting residents, and even then, demanding strict 14-day quarantine for all arrivals, saved 1000’s of lives and the financial system till vaccines may very well be created and distributed.
But the extremely infectious omicron variant which has surged world wide has made this ‘zero COVID’ coverage not possible to keep up.
While China has doubled down, barricading total streets in Shanghai and confining folks to their houses – generally even bolting them in – Taiwan is embracing this new actuality, slowly reopening and grappling with the right way to safely swap from suppressing the virus to mitigation.
Experts say there may be little level in conserving border quarantine as omicron sweeps the nation and dwarfs incoming instances – an argument that was acknowledged by Chen Shih-chung, Taiwan’s well being minister on Friday, who stated the nation would begin to chill out its border controls progressively in June.
‘The CECC cares for you’
The quarantine mandate was already lowered from 14 to seven days earlier this month, and Mr Chen stated Taiwan had reached the purpose the place the chance of home an infection was the identical or greater than the chance coming from exterior.
On the day we arrived simply 28 instances have been discovered on the airport, in contrast with 57,188 inside the local people. On Friday, confirmed home infections have been 94,808 and 47 abroad arrivals.
Among the arguments to scale back or scrap border quarantine are the valuable assets it consumes that may very well be used elsewhere.
I felt responsible as we got two fast dwelling assessments on the airport, understanding that individuals have been queuing exterior Taipei chemists for hours for brief provides.Travellers nonetheless have to check on day seven of quarantine and report the outcomes to the Central Epidemic Command Centre (CECC) or face a nice of as much as £4,000.
For the seven-day interval, we have been assigned a CECC liaison officer – the useful Mr Chen – who supplied recommendation on the foundations and organized for the particular assortment and disposal of our family rubbish.
Every day at 10.02am a textual content message arrived asking us to report if we had signs or not, signing off with the charming phrase: “The CECC cares for you.”
It’s an environment friendly system that capabilities like clockwork, however Taiwan has different priorities now.
In reopening, it’s now following the trail of regional neighbours South Korea and Singapore, who prior to now few months abolished quarantine for absolutely vaccinated travellers as they attempt to study to dwell with the virus.
“At this stage of the pandemic when the virus is less virulent and more transmissible, the risk vs benefit ratio of quarantine is substantially altered,” stated Singapore-based Prof Paul Tambyah, President of the Asia Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infection.
“In other words, the benefits of retaining quarantines are small compared with the costs. These costs include indirect costs which could have an impact on healthcare well beyond COVID,” he stated.
“The diversion of resources to maintaining and enforcing quarantine was not sustainable in Singapore and I suspect will not be sustainable for long in Taiwan. These resources are better spent ensuring that the vulnerable among the local population are appropriately diagnosed and treated.”
Chunhuei Chi, director of the Centre for Global Health at Oregon State University and a former coverage adviser to Taiwan’s National Health Insurance Administration, agreed that whereas Taiwan had made the precise determination to face the Omicron wave, it wanted to carry its quarantine insurance policies in control.
“It is contradictory to require quarantine at the border for longer than those who are infected domestically,” he stated. “Taiwan has been losing its international advantage since this Spring because most parts of the world already opened up for tourists and visitors.”
Differentiating between the vaccinated and unvaccinated was an essential public well being message, he argued. Not least to steer some 20 per cent of the 75+ age group who stay unvaccinated of the advantages of the jab.
Taiwan, like China, Hong Kong and a few Pacific nations, faces a type of vaccine hesitancy distinctive to international locations that adopted a zero COVID coverage – when the weak aged perceived there was no probability of home an infection, they calculated the chance of vaccine side-effects could be greater.
But whereas the federal government had been under-prepared for the sudden surge, it was adapting quick to the brand new actuality, he stated.
“I am amazed how they constantly change their procedures,” Mr Chi stated. “They realised facing Omicron, Taiwan can no longer practice zero COVID.”
Chia Wang, an aerosol scientist and Director of the Aerosol Science Research Centre at Taiwan’s National Sun Yat-sen University, urged the federal government to replace its recommendation on airborne transmission as the first pathway of the virus and to emphasize precautionary measures.
“People should pay more attention to air cleaning because they pay more than enough attention to cleaning surfaces or handwashing but [this] is one key part that has been missing,” she stated, recommending air flow in indoor areas and HEPA filters.
“This is one of the most important keys to mitigate the pandemic in Taiwan,” she stated.
Taiwan is present process an enormous mindset shift because it strikes from its virus-free standing as one of many world’s solely secure havens to a disconcerting vertical trajectory of infections, albeit largely delicate or asymptomatic.
Travel between Taiwan and the UK is like coming into parallel universes. It was mentally liberating to see folks get on with their lives with out concern of an infection or stigma in Britain.
But Taiwan’s warning and acknowledgement that the pandemic is much from over has, and continues, to avoid wasting many lives. As we navigate this subsequent section, it in some way looks like East and West may meet within the center.
The Telegraph, London