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Dealing with Ms. Rona in Taiwan

My friend’s parents luckily was able to travel and experience Taiwan right before the major lockdown in the US took place in Mid March

The day was January 24th. It was the last official work day right before the Chinese New Year holiday. By then, it was already around a week since we heard about the virus, but this was the day when people kinda realized that this was real and no joke. 

And just maybe a day or so later, China had to shut down all of their cities just like that. No one could go out, people had to scramble and alter their plans, many left the country, etc. Taiwan and Hong Kong are the first ones to be directly affected by it due to our close proximity. But Taiwan took the necessary actions. 

Due to panic buying, many grocery stores such as this one limits the amount of toilet paper and rice that can be bought per customer

They firstly canceled all flights coming from China to Taiwan. The use of mask-wearing was instant and checking temperatures for fevers along with spraying of hands with rubbing alcohol happened overnight in all public establishments: restaurants, cafes, drug stores, grocery stores, etc. Lines of convenience stores, pharmacies, and drug stores became extremely long and everything from disinfectant, to toilet paper, was sold out. Everyone was freaking out. 

Taiwan did not hesitate to enforce measures to ensure that it does not spread. They have dealt with a few viruses in the past such as SARS and MERS, so they have experience with viruses and were well-prepared in fighting this pandemic.

Officials first tracked down people who traveled between China and Taiwan in the past weeks leading up to the announcement of the virus. It was around 8,000 particularly from Wuhan who flew from Wuhan to Taiwan. They contacted those people and slowly began testing and tracking people who potentially had the virus along with others they have passed it to as well.

Then, people who work or study were asked to fill out questionnaires about travel history along with sickness symptoms. 

And slowly over time, a lot of things were implemented such as quarantining, not just people coming from China, but any country, mandatory testing for people entering the country, limiting travel, cutting down bus/train schedules, cutting down flights, and then essentially restricting non-residents into flying into Taiwan to lower the chance of spread. Many schools were delayed and some like NTNU were put in quarantine, thorough cleans were being done in many public spaces, and even people themselves were kicking it up a notch too. I saw many people wearing gloves, putting mfing transparent trash bags over their heads, wearing skiing goggles, and I mean the list goes on. 

In terms of testing, it took some time to implement, but it was relatively accessible and easy to do. You can walk into almost any clinic (insurance or no insurance) and get tested for around $20 USD. I am not too sure about the treatment, but I would assume that it is free or at a very low cost. Gotta love the health care system in Taiwan.

From April 4th, Taipei’s public transit systems required all passengers to wear a face mask. Otherwise, passengers can be fined up to NT$15,000 or ~$450USD. Just wear it.

A lot of new laws also went into place from things like individual banning of selling face masks, a ban of spreading fake news online about COVID-19, the mandatory wearing of masks on the MRT, trains, and busses, 1.5m standing distance (which Taiwanese people don’t know anything about personal space if their lives ever depended on it) and so much more. Too much to even remember or recollect. 

Social distancing is going not too bad in Costco. They even have lines so that people can stand properly.

I knew it was bad for I was seeing news all over about how it was affecting China, but I was also very calm about the situation. Taiwan from the get-go had it all down to the T, I wasn’t worried. By March, I already saw people feeling relaxed and at an ease of the entire situation here. Many people not wearing masks as much, lines have reduced (slightly), and more people were going outside enjoying themselves. Our numbers infected are incredibly low compared to many other countries. As of April 17, 2020, Taiwan has less than 400 cases. ~50 of those are local cases (where someone infected another person directly) and the remaining cases were imported, (but then again, who comes to Taiwan anyway???) 

March was also the time where the news about the massive spread in the US and Europe was rapid causing major lockdowns from most countries globally limiting travel and a bunch of other types of mess. People freaked out once again and many Taiwanese people flew back home causing the numbers to skyrocket.

And don’t get me started with the WHO. Taiwan’s lack of presence in the organization due to China had them locked out of important discussions that would have benefited other countries from managing the virus properly. From that shady WHO official advisor avoiding simple questions about Taiwan’s membership to the Taiwan Can Help ad in the New York Times, it has been one messy thing after another. There’s a lot to this in which I am personally still reading up on, but go ahead and take a look here to understand the issues between Taiwan and the WHO. Also, something more visual here.

The whole mask-wearing debate

You can buy cool covers like the girl in the middle for a surgical mask to make it last longer

There is one big divide when it comes to whether wearing a mask or not truly helps beat the virus. Here’s my observation and take from it. 

In most Asian countries, wearing a mask is a common thing to do. Particularly in Taiwan, people would wear a mask for all sort of reasons. It could be that: the person is sick, the person does not want to get sick, the pollution is bad, maybe a bad hair day, no make up on, to cover up a scar, feeling kinda down, don’t want to smile (yes, I heard this from a friend), etc. 

Whereas in Western countries, wearing a mask is not really a thing in public and frowned upon for people automatically assume that the person wearing the mask is sick.

Now here’s where coronavirus comes in. From studies, we know that the virus can be contracted by bodily fluids such as saliva or from a simple cough to touching people/surfaces with the virus. We also know that people can also show no symptoms and still carry the virus AND spread it to others. With the masks, people wear them to not only protect themselves from not contracting it. But also, if they do have it, they wear it to not spread it to others. But you know, it still does not stop someone from not getting the virus, but it will reduce the chance of someone catching it. 

Here’s what I don’t understand. Why do people make it seem wearing a mask is the sole thing that can be done into not catching the virus? Let’s be real, the masks DO help in not catching it, but it is not the only prevention you can take from being infected. 

As we learned, the virus can sit on surfaces for DAYS. Take a look at this picture below. 

So yeah go ahead, wear your masks all you want, but that shit ain’t the only thing you should be worried about. You also gotta worry about everything you touch, your clothes, belongings, different surfaces… everything.

And then, we go to the simple shit you can do: hand washing. How many people actually wash their hands with SOAP and water? I went to the MRT (which is Taipei’s underground subway) and stood in a long line to go to use the restroom. I saw 7 people walk by the sink after they used the restroom. And ask me, how many people ACTUALLY washed their hands with SOAP and water? I counted one. One person. So you want to give me dirty looks for not wearing a mask, but you dirty mofos don’t want to wash your hands properly? I would feel that this is even MORE important than anything else. Of course, still, wear your mask, but we gotta do better. This is why you should trust nobody and be careful out there. No one is safe. 

Do I look happy?

As for myself, to be honest, I personally don’t like to wear the mask. I find them very uncomfortable, hard to breathe (due to having asthma) and just like why? I feel like every time I put on one, I spend a lot of time readjusting it when it slides down. I wonder if anyone has done a study on if someone was to touch a surface with corona and then touch their mask, does the virus survive there? I would believe so, but then again I am no expert. 

But, I do wear it mainly at work, on MRT and busses (it’s required by law in Taiwan now) along with a few other public spaces. But otherwise, your girl gotta breathe and be free. 

Also, Hand sanitizer isn’t enough. Soap. Soap. Soap. 

Here’s another thing though. This study came out a few weeks ago on the difference in the number of cases of people infected in different countries based on mask-wearing. Agree to disagree with me here, but I don’t feel like mask-wearing alone is the deciding factor on why some countries have more cases over another. We also need to look at how different countries responded when the news of when it first came out, their rapidness in making decisions on how to handle the virus, the resources they may/may not have, mandatory testing on individuals from flying into a country, sanitization of public spaces…I mean we can go down the list. And I just cannot understand how one small thing can be the determining factor on the spread. 

Of course, they do help, but were they the only thing that could be used to stop the spread? No. 

Where can I buy a mask?

The umpteenth pharmacy sold out of masks

When this whole breakout started, lines to shops (as mentioned from earlier) were insane. People were buying masks and shops were selling out within an hour. People were forming lines causing so much excessive congestion. It was all too much. Before you could buy masks in drug stores, convenience stores, and pharmacies, but after the breakout, the Taiwanese government realized that the current system wasn’t working. People were buying too many, and even when they limited the amount you could buy, the stores were still too congested and were sold out instantly. 

They made a big change and made it so that you can only buy masks from pharmacies. The catch was that you can only buy on certain days of the week based upon your ID number. Even numbers went on some days and other days, odd numbers. But on Sundays, everybody can go. This somewhat helped the congestion.

This infographic was widespread and easily accessible when the switch happened and available both in English and Chinese

Now I say somewhat, for the downside to it was that the lines were still long. If you don’t know, Taiwanese people love to line up, esp. old aunties and uncles. On my commute to work, I would pass by that pharmacy line at 8:30 am wrapped around the mfing building and still going like what? The dedication, and I absolutely admire it. Couldn’t be me. 

On top of that, you can only buy the masks at certain times of the day. So you gotta get there early and somehow try to beat all the aunties and uncles to get your ration for the week. Each pharmacy only receives a certain amount each day and once it’s sold out, it’s out. So sometimes people would wait in line for 2 hours, and not get a mask. AND, the times to buy the masks were mostly during working hours. How am I supposed to buy that shit when I don’t even have the time to line up? Ain’t nobody got time for that. 

Another infographic educating people on which masks best protect against the virus

Oh, and did I mention? When this system was first introduced, you can only obtain 2 masks a week. Now they normally give out the surgical mask, which actually only lasts 8 hours…so you have to find a way to make it work. Just imagine if someone had the virus and only had 2 masks, not knowingly going around outside with it? Yeah sure they won’t cough on you and you catch it, but you can still potentially get infected.

Every 7 days Adults can get only 3 Masks, but children could get 5 masks.

The companies producing these masks increased their efforts during this time and eventually the amount obtained a week went up to 3 a week to 5 a week to now 9 per 2 weeks which is wonderful. And now, you can just order it online (only people who are a part of the National Health Insurance can do this) and just pick it up in a convenience store. No more waiting in line. Bless!!! And it doesn’t stop there.

Almost seamless online ordering system. You need a chip reader usb hub to register. Who has a chip reader lying around at home in the first place?

Taiwan produced so many masks that they were able to donate them to many other countries in need such as Singapore, Italy, and the US. Look at them go! 

The system wasn’t perfect, but Taiwan was able to respond quickly to the needs of everyone and made it accessible to buy and obtain them in a timely manner and I salute them for that. 

I didn’t even know you can buy masks in colors other than blue till after this outbreak

Lockdown who? 

People like my friend and her family can still go out, stay protected and have a good time

Thanks to their proactivity, not only Taiwan but Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong along with a few other countries did not have to go on a full lockdown due to their governments’ quick responses to this pandemic. 

Even for myself, I am very fortunate and grateful that I am living in Taiwan, that I have a job, can go out and work and not worry about when is the next time I will eat or if I can pay for rent. I know a lot of people back home who are struggling, going crazy being at home all the time, and the ever-changing circumstances, and not knowing what’s happening next. So I just wish and hope for people to take it day by day, find time to relax, and also just try to stay preoccupied till this all passes.

But also low-key, I wish I was on lockdown (just for two weeks, nothing more) for I could get so much done. If I had the free time I would work on so many different projects, but also I hate being inside all the time so that definitely would not work for me. For now, I am thinking and expressing my condolences to those going through lockdowns in very tough situations. 

Also, If you’re curious, take a look at all the lockdowns happening globally

An Unfortunate Increase of Xenophobia/Racism 

And unfortunately, humans still indeed do suck during dire times. From Pointing fingers at Asian people for “bringing the virus to their country”, to throwing acid on a random Chinese woman outside a door. What is wrong with our society? Do people not realize that anyone could have the virus and maybe those people you pointed at are local citizens in your hometown?!!

Along with that, even in Taiwan, you see very subtle, ever so noticeable actions being done by Taiwanese people towards foreigners. When walking, I noticed that a lot of times, people would see me and automatically step away from me even though I am not standing so close to them. On the MRT, no one wants to sit beside me (ok whateverrrrr) and then people, of course, giving me weird looks every now and then like honey idc but also I don’t have time. For some people, I know it happens because foreigners usually don’t like to wear a mask, which may prompt someone to not want to be close to them, but a mask or not, it still happens to me on a regular basis. Whatever

These times remind me of when Trump was running for president. At that time, I was living in China and just seeing the foolery and all the crazy things unfold about him back home. Back in Shanghai, if I mentioned that I was from the US, people’s first question always circled around him. Like I don’t want to talk about him. I don’t like him, I have stopped following the news about him for it was all too much. Like, leave me alone? 

And even though this time is quite different, in this event, this situation affects all of us across the entire globe. It affects the economy, how we move about and our everyday lives. It all is too much for me personally. I had to stop looking at the news for its all quite overwhelming.

  • No, I don’t want to know the number of cases that we have in DC/the US/Taiwan
  • No, I don’t want to hear who died
  • No, I don’t want to know which country closed their borders
  • No, I don’t want to see who broke their quarantine
  • No, I don’t want to read any more memes (unless its funny)
  • No, I don’t want to see your cousin acting a fool on Tik Tok because of Rona
  • No, I don’t want to know why the US’s situation is bad and ain’t shit for the millionth time
  • No, I don’t want to talk about if we should wear a mask or not (just wear it)
  • No, I don’t want to read your conspiracy theories about 5G causing Rona (cuz it ain’t)

Please, leave it at the door.

Even for myself, I had to tell my friends to stop updating me and constantly talking about it. I totally get that this is kinda what’s stopping our lives now, but it’s also out of our control. We just have to hold tight and get through it, follow steps to stay protected and find other ways to cope in the meantime. 

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