Travelling in Taiwan during the coronavirus outbreak

Posted by Elise Kirsten on 12 February 2020

Travelling in Taiwan as a wave of fear grips much of Asia is an interesting experience. Thousands of people are still quarantined on the Diamond Princess, which arrived in Japan’s port of Yokahama on 3 February. Thailand has refused to give passengers on the Holland America cruise ship MS Westerdam permission to disembark in Bangkok on 13 February, according to Al Jazeera.
China’s measures to quell the spread of the disease are all over the news, as are reports of increasing numbers of airlines that are cancelling flight routes to the country.

CNN’s Richard Quest has been covering the impact of the virus on businesses in China. Toyota, General Motors and most other vehicle manufacturers in China have shut their plants. Hyundai’s massive five-plant network in South Korea, described as the ‘most productive car factory in the world’ by the Bangkok Post has had to stop operations. This is because it has ‘run out of the wiring harnesses that connect vehicles’ complex electronics’.

Facebook has stopped taking orders for its Oculus Quest virtual reality (VR) goggles and come Christmas, it’s rumoured that Santa may struggle to get his hands on certain toys.

Here in Taiwan, there have been 18 confirmed cases of coronavirus at the time of writing. Other than China, Singapore and Thailand are among the countries most affected.

Visitors have their temperatures taken at Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Bureau. Image credit: Elise Kirsten

I’ve had concerned family and friends caution me to ‘be careful’. However, the Taiwanese government has been proactive in trying to protect its citizens and visitors. When I arrived here on 7 February I estimate that about 70% of people were wearing surgical masks. A week later and that total is closer to 90%.

Everyone who interfaces with the public is required to wear a mask. Hotel and restaurant staff, shopkeepers, the staff at museums and tourist sites are all required to wear masks. For the rest, it’s discretionary but people are encouraged to wear them in public.

I’ve seen people queue outside pharmacies to get surgical masks and a long queue outside of the local Taiwan Beer brewery on Monday was not for six-packs but rather people were looking to buy alcohol to use for sanitation.

Taiwan Berr’s brewery in Taipei. Image: Elise Kirsten

As a tourist, every time I enter my hotel, my temperature is taken and I am requested to disinfect my hands using the spray bottle of hand sanitizer in the lobby. The same routine has been repeated at the National Palace Museum, the Pingling Tea Museum and on a visit to the Environmental Protection Bureau.

No one insists that tourists wear masks, although I have been issued with masks daily.

The only time I was requested to wear a mask was on a visit to the Presidential Office Building. I complied for once, just on the off chance that President Tsai Ing-wen catches the virus from someone else and then I get pegged as the rebellious foreigner who may have been to blame– not that I saw her on the public tour of the building.

All around me, the kind and considerate people of Taiwan are taking precautions which will hopefully help protect them and visitors to this island nation, without being dictatorial, pushy or rude about compliance.

The sentiment seems to be rather safe than sorry, which is fine with me.

Image: Elise Kirsten

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