One of our Canadian high school teachers shares about her firsthand observations and experience living and teaching in Taiwan during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Originally posted to Facebook on 4/3, re-shared with permission.
Living in Taiwan during COVID-19 is…honestly, pretty normal.
It has felt quite surreal to wake up, go to school, teach students face-to-face, and then go on social media to see updates from friends all around the world going into isolation one by one. I found out today that Taiwan is allegedly one of six countries left in the world that still has schools open and running during this pandemic. In fact, because Taiwan extended the Chinese New Year break by two weeks to avoid community spread in schools – this happened in early February, back when we only had 10 confirmed cases – the Ministry of Education extended our school year by two weeks into the middle of July. Education is a serious matter here, folks.
When I first heard the news about a novel coronavirus in January, I was initially worried because Taiwan is right next to China and has more than its fair share of political tensions with China/the UN/WHO. A recent viral video of an interview conducted by RTHK with WHO’s Dr. Aylward is just another example of this. I was concerned about Taiwan’s ability to coordinate protective measures and partake in the sharing of information amidst a pandemic when most of the world, whether by choice or immense pressure from China, can barely have diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
However, as it turns out, Taiwan has done just fine on its own - and, is arguably the safest developed country to be in right now in the entire world. An article stated that Taiwan “was expected to have the second highest number of cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) due to its proximity to and number of flights between China.” Yet, we currently have 329 confirmed cases, most of which are imported cases from travellers returning from abroad.
The government has done an incredible job protecting this country against all odds. Taiwan started implementing protective measures against COVID-19 since December last year. Healthcare professionals are working tirelessly on the front lines. Travel bans and strict quarantine measures were enacted early on. Tracking of coronavirus cases and contacts has been nothing short of impeccable. Mask production was ramped up and a rationing system was implemented. They can now be ordered online and picked up at one of the many NHI pharmacies around the country. This is just a tiny slice of what Taiwan has done to protect against COVID-19.
The result? People are still going to work, most restaurants and shopping centres are open, and the public transportation is still filled with commuters (who are all dutifully wearing masks). Although there has been a little bit of panic buying, our grocery stores are still well stocked…and yes, we still have toilet paper. While there are absolutely people and businesses that have been hit hard by COVID-19, the vast majority of us are in the extremely fortunate position of still being able to go about our daily lives without major disruption.
To my teacher friends and colleagues: I wish you all the best as you (hopefully) get to resume teaching sometime in the near future, whether online or face-to-face. At my school, we are currently preparing for online learning in case that situation arises. We have some preventative practices that I hope schools in more countries will adopt and adapt: Teachers disinfect commonly touched surfaces (desks, remotes, doorknobs, and light switches) several times daily, and we also spray all of our students’ hands with hand sanitizer when they enter class. Everyone gets their forehead temperature checked upon entering school premises. Hand-washing and mask-wearing are the norm.
Taiwan also has protocols in place if there is community spread in schools: 1 confirmed case triggers a shut down of that student/teacher’s class for 14 days, while 2 confirmed cases shuts down the entire school for 14 days. A few schools have had to do this. A travel ban was also implemented on K-12 teachers and students specifically until the end of the extended school year, after some students returning from abroad came back with COVID-19.
Taiwan learned its lessons from SARS in 2003. The minimal changes to our daily lives in Taiwan are possible because the country implemented protective measures quickly, proactively, and effectively. Culturally, living in a more collectivist as opposed to individualistic society also has a considerable impact. The normality of our current reality is a reflection of all of these factors and more. That being said, these are not reasons to relax just because we have fewer cases or a lower risk of community spread – flattening the curve does not work if not everyone participates or takes these measures seriously. Me? I am just a really lucky foreigner to find myself living here, of all places. I hope the rest of the world learns their lesson from COVID-19 so that when a future epidemic occurs (because it certainly will), it does not have to turn into another devastating pandemic.
Thank you Taiwan! Stay safe, everyone.
Sophia is a Foresight I.E.C. teacher from Toronto, Canada. She currently teaches grade 7 ESL in New Taipei City.