Coronavirus

Taiwan Counting On ''Self-Discipline'' To Stop COVID Spread

After having just a handful of cases, the virus is suddenly spreading on the island nation. Despite a relatively loose lockdown, residents boast that they know how to shut COVID down on their own.

Chemical troops disinfect public areas of Wanhua District in Taipei, June 2021
Chemical troops disinfect public areas of Wanhua District in Taipei, June 2021
Byun Chung Pei and Li Ka Ho*

TAIPEI — Since May 15, when Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center announced that Taipei and New Taipei City were on "Level 3 Epidemic Alert," photos and videos of street scenes of Taipei's "empty city" have filled social media. The posts often refer to Taiwan's "self-discipline," with one boasting "Watch out world, Taiwan will only demonstrate once how it will lift the level 3 (alert) within two weeks." What explains such public confidence?

Indeed, Taiwan's Level 3 alert is far less restrictive than measures implemented in many other countries, including China, France, and the United Kingdom. But for many commentators, judging from the quiet streets and empty businesses, they believe that the spontaneous behavior of the Taiwanese people has already entered the quasi-city closure stage, which will help the country to quickly overcome the COVID-19 surge.

Despite Taiwan's proximity to Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus first broke out, the island nation has been largely spared. It held a record of 252 consecutive days of zero confirmed cases this past year. With confirmed cases mostly kept to a single digit, Taiwan was considered a "model student of epidemic prevention" by outsiders. However, the myth is now destroyed. With loosening adherence to protocols, lowered quanrantine requirements for flight crews and vaccine shortfall, cluster affections in late April soon led to the spike in cases during May, resulting the anouncement of Level 3 Alert.

In terms of restriction force, Taiwan's "Level 3 Alert" is just average in comparison to these cities; but in terms of results, the average drop in data after the week of closure for driving, public transportation, and walking was greater than 30%, ranking first among the top seven cities. In other words, by looking at the data from this stage, it could be deducted that Taipei and New Taipei have entered a state of "voluntary lockdown."

A rapid COVID-19 in New Tapei — Photo: Daniel Ceng Shou-Y/ZUMA

Another noteworthy phenomenon is that the flow of people to their homes has increased significantly, while the flow to workplaces has declined, but by less than 20%, compared to the strictest lockdowns abroad, where the flow of people to workplaces has decreased more significantly, such as Los Angeles 31%, New York 26%, Paris 63%, Singapore 43%.

Since May 10, when local cases began to appear in Taiwan, Taipei has seen a gradual decline in traffic, whether by car, public transportation, or on foot. Judging from the trend of the mobility flow data, it is indeed evident that Taiwanese people are willing to be highly cooperative in the face of the "crowd control" policy put into place.

Taiwan is facing a challenge that most countries in the world have already faced.

As the epidemic has escalated, there have been calls for the government to further "harden" the measures. However, according to international studies, if we look at nine countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany, we will eventually find that the key to an effective lockdown policy is not to take harsh measures, but to "start early and gradually unblock" the cities.

This could be the reason why strong closures have failed to contain the epidemic, necessitating the repeated issuance of closures of different standards. After all, it's not just about strict closures; it's also about how well people accept and abide by the policy, and how much they can tolerate.

Taiwan is facing a challenge that most countries in the world have already faced, and has announced that the Level 3 Alert is prolonged until June 14. There have been 6,856 new cases registered between May 20 to June 2, compared to a total of under 1,000 between Jan. 2020 and March 19, 2021.

What does the future hold for Taiwan? Are the people still willing to cooperate with the government's order to stay out and move less? It is still worth watching very closely.

It's still too early to see the full effects of the current soft lockdown measures. However, experts say that if people in Taiwan can maintain "less travel and less movement," we may soon see the COVID curve flatten — and all the boasting about "self-discipline" will be vindicated.


*Byun Chung Pei is an assistant professor at the School of Innovation and International Studies, National Chengchi University, and Lee Ka Ho is a finance major at Monash University in Australia.

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Geopolitics

Erdogan And Boris Johnson: A New Global Power Duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too.

Johnson and Erdogan in NYC on Sept. 20

Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung

-Analysis-

BERLIN — According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. The agreement covers billions of euros' worth of military equipment, and the two countries have committed to come to each other's aid if they are attacked.

Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey.

Officially, the Turkish government is unruffled, saying the pact doesn't represent a military threat. But the symbolism is clear: with the U.S., UK and Australia recently announcing the Aukus security pact, Ankara fears the EU may be closing ranks when it comes to all military issues.

What will Aukus mean for NATO?

Turkey has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

Europe's approach to security and defense is changing dramatically. Over the past few months, while the U.S. was negotiating the Aukus pact with Britain and Australia behind the EU's back, a submarine deal between Australia and France, which would have been worth billions, was scrapped.

The EU is happy to keep Erdogan waiting

Officially, Turkey is keeping its cards close to its chest. Addressing foreign journalists in Istanbul, Erdogan's chief advisor Ibrahim Kalin said the country was not involved in Aukus, but they hope it doesn't have a negative impact on NATO. However, the agreement will have a significant effect on Turkey.

"Before Aukus, the Turks thought that the U.S. would prevent the EU from adopting a defense policy that was independent of NATO," says Sinan Ülgen, an expert on Turkey at the Brussels think tank Carnegie Europe. "Now they are afraid that Washington may make concessions for France, which could change things."

Macron sees post-Merkel power vacuum

Turkey's concerns may well prove to be justified. Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey, partly because it is an important trading partner and partly because it has a direct influence on the influx of migrants from Asia and the Middle East to Europe.

Merkel consistently thwarted France's plans for a stricter approach from Brussels towards Turkey, and she never supported Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU.

But now she that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

Ankara fears the defense pact between France and Greece could be a sign of what is to come. According to a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, the agreement is aimed "at NATO member Turkey" and is damaging to the alliance. Observers also assume the agreement means that France is supporting Greece's claims to certain territories in the Mediterranean which remain disputed under international law, with Turkey's own sovereignty claims.

Paris is a close ally of Athens. In the summer of 2020, Greece and Turkey were poised on the threshold of a military conflict in the eastern Mediterranean. Since then, Athens has ordered 24 Rafale fighter jets from France, and the new pact includes a deal for France to supply them with three frigates.

Photo of French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

Sadak Souici/Le Pictorium Agency/ZUMA

Erdogan’s EU wish list

It's not the first time that Ankara has felt snubbed by the EU. Since Donald Trump left the White House, Turkey has been making a considerable effort to improve relations with Brussels. "The situation in the eastern Mediterranean is peaceful and the migrant problem is under control," says Kalin. Now it is "high time" that Europe does something for Turkey.

Erdogan's wish list is extensive: making it easier for Turks to get EU visas, renegotiating the refugee deal, making more funds available to Turkey as it continues the process of joining the EU, and moderniszing the customs union. But there is no movement on any of these issues in Brussels. They're happy to keep Erdogan waiting.

Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU

Now he is starting to look elsewhere. At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense.

 Turkey's second largest export market

The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016. Unlike other European capitals, London reacted quickly, calling the coup an "attack on Turkish democracy," and its government has generally held back in its criticism of Turkey.

At the end of last year, Johnson and Erdogan signed a new free trade agreement, which will govern commerce between the two countries post-Brexit. Erdogan has called it "the most important treaty for Turkey since the customs agreement with the EU in 1995."

After Germany, Britain is Turkey's second largest export market. "Turkey now has the opportunity to build a new partnership with the United Kingdom and it must make the most of it," says economist Ali Kücükcolak from the Istanbul Commerce University.

Erdogan is well aware of this, as Turkey is in desperate need of an economic boost. Inflation currently stands at 19%, and the currency's value is consistently falling. Turks are feeling the impact on their daily lives: food and rent are becoming increasingly expensive, while salaries remain unchanged.

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