Ripe time to learn from Taiwan

Ripe time to learn from Taiwan

The name "Taiwan" seems to be a taboo in Thailand, particularly in officialdom. From the prime minister at the top down to the lowest ranking officials, scarcely any of them mention Taiwan or Taiwan's extraordinary success story in containing Covid-19 as early as March, without resorting to all the lockdown measures being adopted by most countries -- including Thailand -- as they struggle to prevent the spread of the contagion.

This is understandable because here in Thailand, we are afraid of offending China, which recently declared Thailand as its "true friend in need". It did so after Thai doctors treated several Chinese tourists from Wuhan who were found to be infected with the deadly virus, including the first confirmed case in Thailand, until all had recovered and returned home. All for free.

On top of that, the government and private sector sent medical face masks to Wuhan, the epicentre of China's Covid-19 outbreak, during the initial stage of the outbreak, when China experienced a serious shortage of face masks. Later on, China reciprocated by sending medical supplies, such as N95 face masks, PPE gowns and respirators to Thailand, returning the favour along with a sugar-coated commendation for Thai generosity and friendship.

Hence, we have missed the chance to learn from Taiwan, or to draw a lesson from the "Taiwan model" in the fight against Covid-19, and at the same time, saving the economy from the damage caused by lockdown measures which many countries have adopted.

Since Taiwan is an island with a population of only 23 million, about twice the size of Bangkok, it is possible the "Taiwan model" may not be applied successfully in Thailand or other countries. But learning from a success story and, if possible, adapting it to different circumstances, wouldn't hurt, would it?

Just take a look at our lockdown measures and their impact on our economy, as well as the millions of people who are suffering from a sudden loss of income because of business closures. The lockdown appears to be disproportionately more damaging than the virus.

The Bank of Thailand has predicted GDP will contract by 5.3% this year, before bouncing back to about 3% next year, depending on how successful we are in containing the pandemic.

To be honest, the government was slow and erratic in responding to the virus since the first confirmed case was reported on Jan 13, which was followed by the first local transmission on Jan 31.

In mid-March, infections rose sharply to more than 100 new cases a day. On March 26, the prime minister declared a state of emergency, followed by an abrupt order to close down businesses and public venues. By that time, Taiwan has already managed to contain the disease. So far, about 400 infections and six deaths have been recorded in Taiwan.

Unlike Thailand, Taiwan took measures early on when it learned of a string of pneumonia cases in Wuhan back in December, before the diseases was named Covid-19 by the World Health Organization.

With the lessons it learned from the Sars epidemic about a decade ago, Taiwan took key steps to address the problem, in particular, the use of mobile phone applications to track people in quarantine.

Another key element in their success story is the campaign which taught the public that it is the responsibility of everyone to help contain the virus.

Here in Thailand, a mobile phone app, called Thai Chana ("Thais Win"), was introduced yesterday, as the country entered the second phase of lockdown relaxation with the resumption of more businesses and leisure activities.

It is a pity the Thai Chana app is not made mandatory out of fear that it may intrude on people's right to privacy, although people have been advised to adopt the app by simply recording QR codes posted at the entrance of public venues, such as shopping malls.

But Thais should ask themselves again if they value the right to privacy over safety, bearing in mind that they won't be able to enjoy privacy if they are dead.

The next two weeks will be a testing time for Thais, and we will see if Thailand can get through unscathed without experiencing the feared second wave of infections. Once again, it is never too late for us to learn from Taiwan's experience.

Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.

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