During the recent outbreak of Covid-19, many countries came under the spotlight due to their (in)efficient response to the virus. Taiwan was expected to have one of the toughest crisis related to the virus due to its proximity and ties to China, where the outbreak caused a complete lockdown of Wuhan. However, defying these expectations, Taiwan kept the number of cases low. Out of its 23.80 million population, Taiwan conducted 73,601 tests and recorded only 443 cases, as well as only 7 deaths. In comparison, Slovenia, with a population of 2 million, conducted 84,748 tests, recorded 1,485 cases and experienced 109 deaths (data as of June 9, 2020). How was Taiwan able to keep its number of infections and deaths so low? How will the Covid-19 crisis affect Taiwan's standing in the international community and its future?
These questions were addressed at »The Taiwan model for pandemic management and lessons for Slovenia« round table, which took place on June 9, 2020, in form of a Zoom webinar. At the webinar, organised by the Taiwan Study Center of the Department of Asian Studies of the Faculty of Arts and the East Asian Resource Library, speakers comparatively addressed the response of Slovenia and Taiwan. After opening speeches by assist. prof. Saša Istenič Kotar (Director, Taiwan Study Center, Dept. of Asian Studies, Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana) and prof. dr. Zlatko Šabič (Chair of International Relations, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana and Director, East Asian Resource Library), short presentations of different views from guest speakers followed. Dr. Kristina Nadrah, M.D. (Clinic of Infectious Diseases, University Medical Centre Ljubljana) talked about the Slovene approach, successes and challenges, prof. dr. Ruby Yun-Ju Huang (黃韻如), M.D. (College of Medicine, National Taiwan University; Dept. of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, National University of Singapore) and H.E. Ms. Liang-Yu Wang (王良玉), Representative of Taiwan to Geneva, Switzerland, spoke of Taiwanese response. Lastly, Mrs. Zorana Baković (correspondent for Slovene daily Delo, expert on Asia) spoke of The consequences that the Covid-19 outbreak will have on Taiwan and the international community.
What set Taiwan apart from the response of other states was primarily the approach of transparency. The status of infections, responses and public health recommendations was updated constantly, and all data was publicly available. By ensuring such transparency, the government was able to operate through the crisis with full trust of its citizens, even imposing some restrictions, that might not have been possible in Slovenia. Furthermore, Taiwan is one of the most digitalised countries, which enabled the health system to operate smoothly, as most operations and services that the individuals needed can be carried out online, ensuring control of the spread of the virus. Effort was also invested into education of the public not only on the virus and its transmission, but also how to act, how to wear masks, and prevent the spread. One of the most vulnerable populations in Taiwan are migrant workers, who live in dorms and are at high risk of contracting Covid-19. Thus, Taiwan put special emphasis on helping vulnerable populations and shield them from the virus.
Despite not being a member of the World Health Organisation, Taiwan was able to manage the global pandemic swiftly, offering lessons to the whole world. This contributed to its international image of a developed, open and progressive society, with a highly-developed tech sector. However, the future of Taiwan is still uncertain, as the Covid-19 crisis also affected the relations of power in the international community, as well as the relations between Taiwan and actors such as China, the EU and the U.S. Currently, there is no way of knowing whether the status quo of Taiwan's position will change, but the China-EU relations should be monitored with outmost attention.