I flew back to Taiwan from the US early on when the pandemic started and, amidst all the global chaos and confusion, I couldn’t be more grateful of being able to shelter here.
From taking classes online, living alone, doing my internship remotely and then in-person, getting a full-time job, going to the doctor, to truly settling down in Taiwan (for now, at least) – I have some things to say about how this country has handled the global pandemic.
It’s as if COVID-19 never really hit Taiwan.
It’s no secret that Taiwan has been one of the most successful countries in handling the pandemic ever since it started to spread in Asia back in January.
From issuing precautions, reinforcing the use of face masks and having a really transparent means of communication, Taiwan has showed its continuous dedication to maintaining the wellbeing of its citizens.
Yes – wearing face masks, hand sanitizing at every opportunity, and getting your temperature measured at the door – would have been abnormal prior to 2020, but that is just about as abnormal as it gets.
Being a small country, with most of its population clustered around Taipei, I am actually really relieved to have these precautions in place after months without a single local case. We’re not wearing face masks 24/7 nor are we avoiding crowds at all costs, but being cautious has prevented us from getting other viral infections like the flu, especially during this hot and humid summer.
Traveling back from California, it took me some time to get over the shock of how different things are handled in different parts of the world. It has been several months now, and I am still impressed by the safety and overall sense of ease that living in Taiwan has been for me.
There was never a lockdown.
The closest thing to a lockdown was delaying the start of classes by two weeks back in February. This allowed the country to both put the health of its citizens first, whilst maintaining the stability of the economy (I mean, as stable as it can be given the circumstances).
Aside from the initial precautions to work at home when there were still cases, I have been going out whenever I need or want to.
I work in-person for my full-time job, and eat out as much as I would like. It often feels like I’m in this bubble of normalcy, while fully aware of the ongoing war against COVID-19.
The country makes daily updates on COVID-19 and new cases.
This transparency means that everyone knows what is going on, every single day. Psychologically, this creates a sense of trust between the government and its people, and serves as a reminder that we should continue being cautious to maintain this calm.
Anyone who travels to Taiwan must go into a mandatory 14-day quarantine. Each person gets NT$1,000 per day in compensation. Violators of this mandatory self-quarantine are fined NT$1 million, and their names and details around their violation are made public on the news. It’s awesome.
Self-quarantine is mandatory and carefully monitored.
Before I boarded my flight in the US, there were Taiwanese attendants taking my temperature.
In the plane, they handed out water bottles to everyone and announced that the food being served had been carefully handled in light of the pandemic. 90% of the people were wearing masks, with some even wearing raincoats, gloves and goggles for extra protection.
When I arrived at the airport in Taiwan, I had to fill out a self-quarantine form to pledge that I wouldn’t go out for 14 days. I filled out my address, contact information. They redirected people with symptoms to another section.
I took a taxi to my place. A person disinfected me and my luggage before I got on the taxi, and the driver politely reminded me not to go out for 14 days.
Once I switched to my Taiwan phone number, I would get a reminder text message every few hours to stay in quarantine. I also got called daily to ensure that I was doing alright.
I got a care package with some instant porridge, cookies, and other snacks. I also had family members send food to me, so I didn’t have to worry about running out of groceries.
Wearing a face mask is not a political statement.
You typically wear face masks if you’re sick, to protect others from getting infected, and – to some extent – to prevent yourself from getting another infection while you’re vulnerable. It’s a preventative measure for yourself and others, because diseases spread fast and easily (gasp).
It is currently summer in Taiwan, and it is intolerably hot and humid here.
During clear days, as soon as you step out into the heat wave, you start to feel this body of heat enveloping you. During rainy days, you can’t walk more than 5 minutes with an umbrella without getting the front or back side of your body soaked. When it’s hot, it’s mega hot. When it rains, it pours.
The weather is absolutely intolerable for someone who has never lived in such weather before – and yet most people are spotted with face masks on at all times. I am amazed.
Face masks are highly recommended in crowded places, and required in the metro. People are fined up to NT$15,000 if they violate this rule.
This is an absolute contrast to when I was back in California, when I literally feared being yelled or stared at for being an Asian wearing a face mask. This fear was enough to prevent me – and many people – from wearing a face mask early on.
You never have to fear going to the doctor.
99% of the population is covered by the National Health Insurance (NHI). It covers almost any typical medical expense that you might need, from family doctors, dentists and chinese medicine doctors.
There are many clinics in Taiwan, mainly clustered in the city. This makes seeing a doctor really convenient at all times. You can make an appointment by calling beforehand, or just going in if it’s not during rush hour.
A visit to the doctor is NT$200, which is less than US$7. This includes both the doctor’s visit, as well as any prescribed medicine for ~3 days. If you don’t have NHI, out-of-pocket costs are at least twice as much, I believe – which isn’t too bad, compared to other developed countries.
A visit to a Chinese medicine doctor cost me NT$200 as well. Similarly, I paid a visit to the doctor, got acupuncture in my lower leg area, and received a take-home sticker pad for my pain. It was pretty great.
As for COVID-19 itself, I haven’t gotten tested nor do I know anyone who has. It is generally not recommended to go get tested unless you’re showing symptoms, as you risk getting infected (by other viruses) when you go to the clinic.
Life is as normal as it can be.
Everywhere you go, you see people wearing face masks, hand sanitizers at the door of many stores, workers ensuring that people are wearing face masks in public transport, and just an overall sense of… normalcy.
We may have COVID-19 under control, but we’re not blind to the catastrophic effects it has had in other countries. It is not over until every country has it under control.
Taiwan is also considered an “aged society,” which may have been a contributing factor in the country coming together to prevent the virus from claiming the lives of many Taiwanese citizens.
All in all, we’re leading a normal life, but not without the precautions that saved the country from plunging into a pool of infections from a virus that we don’t yet know much about.