Many world leaders have lauded Taiwan for its epidemic prevention measures and some countries even followed Taiwan’s methods in curbing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. One of the countries was New Zealand, as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern followed the Taiwanese model to cancel mass gatherings.
“We’re going to follow, pretty closely, the Taiwanese model. They worked up a framework for mass gatherings that’s been quite successful,” said Ms Ardern, as reported by Stuff on 15 March.
Former Prime Minister of Denmark, Anders Fogh Rasmussen in his TIME article on 18 March also praised Taiwan’s readiness to combat the COVID-19 virus, adding that the global health community could have learned from the country’s experience.
Nevertheless, the World Health Organization (WHO) still refused to acknowledge Taiwan’s membership in the organization.
Recently on 28 March, WHO’s assistant director-general, Bruce Aylward during a video interview with The Pulse pretended to have technical difficulties and abruptly ended the interview when he was asked about Taiwan’s membership in the organization.
“Will the WHO reconsider Taiwan’s membership?” The Pulse’s reporter asked.
Mr Aylward stared at the camera for a while before saying, “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear your question.” The reporter wanted to repeat the question, but he requested to skip it.
When the reporter persisted to talk about Taiwan, Mr Aylward abruptly ended the video call. The reporter then called Mr Aylward again to follow up on the question, however, he refused to acknowledge Taiwan and only mentioned China.
“Well, we’ve already talked about China. And you know, when you look across all the different areas of China, they’ve actually all done quite a good job. So, with that, I’d like to thank you very much for inviting us to participate, and good luck as you go forward with the battle in Hong Kong,” he said.
WHO denied Taiwan’s membership due to the country’s geopolitical disputes over its sovereignty. China refused to treat Taiwan as an independent state as it claimed Taiwan as part of its territory.
On 24 March, Taiwan accused the WHO for ignoring the country because of China’s pressure to exclude Taiwan from international bodies, Reuters reported.
According to Asia Times, Taiwan claimed to have alerted the WHO about the risk of human-to-human transmission of COVID-19 in late December but was ignored by the organization, adding that WHO has failed to pass on the warning to other countries.
“While the WHO’s IHR internal website provides a platform for all countries to share information on epidemics and their response, none of the information shared by our country’s CDC was put up there,” noted Taiwan’s Center for Disease Control (CDC) director-general, Chou Jih-haw.
Mr Ramussen also cited in his article, “If it (Taiwan) wishes to participate in WHO technical working bodies made up of health experts looking at specific challenges, it must apply each time and its participation is regularly blocked. One example of this was last year when Taiwan was blocked from discussions on influenza vaccines.”
WHO denied Taiwan’s membership most likely why it praised Singapore instead
Singapore, on the other hand, was praised by the WHO over its “all-government approach” in containing the virus, The Straits Times reported.
“Singapore is a good example of an all-of-government approach – Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s regular videos are helping to explain the risks and reassure people,” said the WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a press briefing on 10 March.
He first praised the country on 18 February, noting that he was impressed with the country’s efforts to find every COVID-19 case, indicating Singapore is “leaving no stone unturned” as it faces the COVID-19 outbreak.
"#Singapore is leaving no stone unturned, testing every case of influenza-like illness and pneumonia. So far they have not found evidence of #COVID19 community transmission"-@DrTedros #coronavirus https://t.co/88KOFjssIO
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) February 18, 2020
Considering Taiwan’s close proximity to mainland China, it is clear that Singapore recorded a higher number of cases with 844 infected cases and three death tolls to date (30 March). While in Taiwan, there were 298 cases and three fatalities so far.
In terms of the country’s strategy to combat the COVID-19 virus, Taiwan’s government seems to be transparent to the public about its decision. This includes its disclosure of 45 million surgical face masks being reserved for the public if needed, Focus Taiwan reported on 22 January.
The country even disclosed the number of 10 million masks being projected to be produced per day as it poised to become the world’s second-largest mask producer.
On 13 February, the Taiwanese government further extended its requisition of all domestically-produced face masks and maintain its ban on its export until the end of April to ensure sufficient domestic supply amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Meanwhile, in Singapore, the country distributed surgical face masks to 1.3 million households, with four surgical face masks per household. But on 30 January, Singapore’s Minister of Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing pointed out that distributing those five million masks to every household in Singapore meant dipping into and further reducing the country’s “limited stock count”.
Mr Chan explained, “If every Singaporean uses a surgical mask, one day we will burn five million masks, if not more. Since we don’t know how long we got to fight this war and the supply line has [been] cut already, [we must] conserve the surgical mask to make sure our medical system can still work.”
Although Singapore’s government was being cautious about its supply of masks for the country’s population, the administration has yet to implement a temporary ban on the export of masks which has led to several cases of face masks being exported out of the country.