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Sat, May
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Life in Taiwan during Covid-19

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MAKING IT IN TAIWAN Mayo men Shane Kelly (left) and Chris Walshe wearing their club and county colours respectively after completing a half marathon at Sun Moon Lake in the centre of the island of Taiwan last year.

Two Mayo men based in Taiwan tell us about life there right now

Edwin McGreal

Despite – or maybe because – Taiwan is much closer to the initial outbreak of Covid-19 in China, two Mayo men living there say they feel much safer where they are than at home.
The island is less than half the size of the island of Ireland yet has a population of almost 24 million people, making it the 17th most densely populated state in the world (Ireland is 139th).
Given that high population density is considered a disadvantage in controlling the spread and given its proximity to China, the fact Taiwan has had only 429 confirmed cases and six deaths from Covid-19 is remarkable.
Shane Kelly (34) from Brickens, outside Claremorris and Chris Walshe (35) from Crossmolina reckon they may just be the only two Mayo people in Taiwan and they’ve watched the onset of the virus at close quarters and with a keen eye its transmission back home in Ireland.
“Taiwan’s response has been really impressive,” Shane Kelly told The Mayo News. “After the SARS outbreak in 2003, the Taiwan Government established a National Health Command Center (NHCC) which takes ownership of major disaster and crisis events and has led the coordination of the response.
“Vice President Chen is an epidemiologist who was Minister for Health at the time of the SARS crisis and he has really led the Taiwan response this time around, taking a lot of quick actions very early.
“In particular they shut down flights from the Wuhan region of China (the epicentre of the outbreak) quite early, enforced self-quarantine for minimum of 14 days as people arrived from ‘at risk’ countries such as South Korea, Italy, Iran and eventually Ireland and the UK; they went to great lengths to trace people that were at risk and isolated them very quickly. They also made face masks compulsory on public transport; enforced rigorous testing and also brought in heavy penalties for people who spread misinformation or withheld their travel history,” added Kelly.
Chris Walsh can testify to the realities of how Taiwan have controlled the spread, having returned from a holiday in Ireland in March.
“I was back in Ireland for two weeks at the beginning of March. Shortly after I got back to Taipei, there had been a spike in the number of cases from overseas so the Government changed the rules and said that anyone who returned to Taiwan from a high risk country – which Ireland was – had to immediately go into a 14 day quarantine.
“I notified the local authority and they came around the same afternoon to take my temperature and inspect my house. I was under strict instructions not to leave for two weeks, and they took my phone number and explained they would track my phone’s GPS to ensure I did not break the rules. There have been stories of people being visited by the police because their phone had died and the GPS signal was lost.
“I was called twice or three times a day to check in and see if there was any change in my condition, and if I was okay for food and water. They would arrange a food parcel to be delivered if you couldn’t get access to food; and they also provided me with forms to claim my 1,000 Taiwanese dollars daily allowance (around €30) while in quarantine.
“I even got a call on my last day thanking me for co-operating properly and apologising for the inconvenience it had caused me even though it was actually the best two weeks of the year!
“The Taiwanese take the quarantine very seriously. There is a now famous story of a man who was fined one million Taiwanese dollars (around €30,000) when he was tracked by the police to a nightclub when he should have been at home. That was a pricey night out!”

No lockdown
There has been no lockdown in Taiwan, like in Ireland. The focus has been on identifying and isolating suspected and potential cases so life has not changed drastically.
“There are a few differences in terms of day to day living since the outbreak, but nothing too drastic,” said Shane Kelly. “There hasn’t been any lockdown here at any stage like there has been at home. For months, it’s been common practice to have your temperature taken whenever entering most shops, bars, restaurants or offices.
“People are trying to practice some sort of social distancing when in crowded areas or on public transport, but it’s generally normal life. The baseball season started here this week, but no spectators were admitted, so they actually had robot drummers in the stands to try and create an atmosphere. I couldn’t see that catching on in MacHale Park,” he quipped.
But Kelly is keen to stress that, like the rest of the world, a long road awaits for Taiwan just yet.
“My only major concern is complacency. Taiwan have done an excellent job so far, but it’s a very fine margin and there is always the risk of a second wave if and when the air travel restrictions are lifted,” he said.
Both men are keeping a close eye at home and are more concerned about Covid-19 in Ireland than Taiwan.  
“From what I’ve seen I think Ireland have done a fairly good job so far. People seem to be taking the lockdown seriously and from talking to friends and family they seem to have adjusted well to the lockdown. Of course, the big worry for me is for family and you always feel the distance from home even more when things go wrong.
“I will say it’s probably the first time my mother has been happy I’m here instead of Ireland as she feels it’s a lot safer here now,” said Chris Walshe.