Taiwan’s front-line medical staff, epidemiologists and policy-makers have been doing sterling work containing the outbreak. Everyone I’ve spoken with – citizens, residents and visitors – greatly appreciates the efforts being made to keep us safe.
– Mark Pemberton, Life of Taiwan founder and managing director
Life of Taiwan’s tours are continuing despite the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19 or 2019-nCoV) epidemic in China. The vast majority of tourist attractions, hotels and restaurants remain open as usual.
Notwithstanding its historical links with and physical proximity to China, Taiwan is a different country with tight immigration and customs controls. What’s more, few Chinese nationals were permitted by Beijing to visit Taiwan ahead of the latter’s presidential and parliamentary elections on January 11. This policy — no doubt motivated by Beijing’s fear that witnessing Taiwan’s democracy could ‘confuse’ Chinese citizens — probably protected the island at a time when the coronavirus threat wasn’t yet properly recognised.
Taiwan has first-class resources and extensive experience dealing with contagious diseases. The entire population benefits from a world-renowned system of health insurance; everyone who needs medical treatment can get it. Insanely, Taiwan isn’t able to participate in the World Health Organisation.
As of March 13, the Ministry of Health and Welfare had reported a total of 49 confirmed coronavirus cases in Taiwan. This includes three who were evacuated from Wuhan, the epicentre of the disease outbreak. One person has died. Almost half of the 49 cases caught the virus outside Taiwan.
According to the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office, foreign nationals who’ve been in China, including Hong Kong and Macau, during the 14-day period before they arrive in Taiwan won’t be permitted to enter. Also, starting from February 10, anyone transiting or making airside transfer in China, including Hong Kong and Macau, will be allowed to enter Taiwan, but will be required to home quarantine for 14 days. In other words, sightseeing will be impossible for the first fortnight — so if you’re planning to come to Taiwan in the next several weeks, fly direct or transit outside Greater China.
On arrival in Taiwan, don’t be alarmed to see a great many people wearing surgical or cloth masks. This is common, even when flu isn’t going around. Fear of germs isn’t the only reason. Some Taiwanese (and other East Asians) wear masks against dust, traffic emissions, and bad odours — or to hide their identity or conceal bad skin or dental braces. In the current public-health climate, if you don’t wear a mask when coughing or sneezing, you’ll be seen as selfish and inconsiderate (at best) or downright dangerous (at worst).
Demand for face masks and gel for washing hands is currently outstripping supply; if possible, bring some from home. When in Taiwan, it’s a good idea to wash your hands several times a day. And do remember that Taiwan remains an exceptionally safe and welcoming place to explore!