UNITED DAILY NEWS
The United Daily News is a Chinese-language newspaper based in Taiwan. It is the third biggest newspaper in Taiwan, after the Liberty Times and the Apple Daily.
Geopolitics
Lisa Lane

Taiwan's Amazing Mask System: Apps, IDs And Convenience Stores

Taiwan has once again upgraded its so-called Name-Based Mask Distribution System.

If you want to see a model for efficient mass distribution of face masks, take a look at Taiwan.

The country just rolled out what it's touting as the Name-Based Mask Distribution System 3.0, a rationing system for face masks that allows the public to go to a convenience store and buy masks within seconds, while being sure supplies are well-monitored and stock is secured for the future. Not surprisingly, it operates through a universal healthcare system, NHI (National Health Insurance) administration.

  • The procedure involves inserting your National Health Insurance (NHI) card in a service machine, keying in a mobile phone number then checking-out at the cashier. (It helps that Taiwan has the world's highest density of convenience stores.)
  • For $1.73 , one can buy up to nine face masks for a two-week adult allowance and 10 for children. Foreigners with a resident certificate and a NHI card can equally use the service.
  • Back on Feb. 6, with the view of preventing a COVID-19 outbreak similar to China's, Taiwan announced a name-based rationing system for face masks. In the beginning they were to be purchased from the government's contracted pharmacies, with a limit of only two masks weekly due to the mask shortage at that time.

A couple wearing surgical masks in Taipei — Photo: Walid Berrazeg/SOPA Images/ZUMA

  • To avoid long lines outside pharmacies and also to avoid people lining up for nothing, Audrey Tang, Taiwan's Digital Minister, came up with a real-time map of local mask inventory accessible by smartphone.
  • This first effort was then updated to distribution system 2.0 where the public could order masks via the Name-Based Mask Distribution System at either the eMask website or the NHI App from a mobile phone.
  • The 3.0 system is an extension of the two previous measures. It's mainly designed for elderly people who do not use the Internet, and is also designed to relieve the workload of pharmacies.
  • To help in preventing an epidemic, back in mid-February several dozen Taiwanese machine tool manufacturers took the initiative to voluntarily set up a face mask production line to respond to the mask shortage.
  • As of today, Taiwan "s daily production of 16 million medical masks will reach 20 million by the end of this month, making it second largest country for mask production after China. This has enabled the island nation to donate millions of masks to foreign countries hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
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Coronavirus

Masks For Milan: Italian Priest In Taiwan Reaps What He Sowed

NEW TAIPEI CITY — The Catholic priest, Father Giovanni Rizzi of the Camillians religious order, has been well known in Taiwan for his decades of work helping to set up hospitals on the island nation.

But in recent days, Rizzi humbly asked for some help in return: for contributions to purchase face masks for hospitals in his hometown of Milan, Italy, one of the worst-hit epicenters of COVID-19. Taiwanese officials and individual citizens alike were quick to respond, donating upwards of $4 million, the United Daily News reported.

An 80-year-old produce vendor contributed a whole week of her income.

Rizzi had made his plea through the platform of Camillian Saint Mary's Hospital in Luodong, Taiwan after learning that more than 50 of his fellow priests and doctors working in the Order's hospitals around Milan had died since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Taiwan's former minister of health and welfare, Mr. Zhi-Liang Yang, was among the first to heed the priest's call, donating $6,700. Thousands of other people followed suit, including an 80-year-old produce vendor who contributed a whole week of her modest income. The Taiwanese government, which has been praised for containing the toll on the island, announced last week that it is also sending masks directly to Italy, as well as to Spain and France, which are all struggling to contain the outbreak.

Geopolitics

Coronavirus — Global Brief: Bitter Irony For Bernie And Universal Healthcare

The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet is a blunt reminder of how small the world has become. For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on this crisis from the best, most trusted international news sources — regardless of language or geography. To receive the daily Coronavirus Global Brief in your inbox, sign up here.

SPOTLIGHT: BITTER IRONY FOR BERNIE SANDERS AND UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE

Coronavirus didn't kill the once promising campaign of Bernie Sanders. The Vermont senator's hopes of winning the U.S. presidency were derailed, for all intents and purposes, five weeks earlier, by rival candidate Joe Biden's sweeping victory in Super Tuesday voting, on March 3.

But the pandemic didn't do Sanders any favors either. To mount a post-Super Tuesday comeback, the 78-year-old Vermont Senator needed to command an ever-greater portion of the nation's attention. But as the COVID-19 crisis escalated — and Sanders, like so many people around the world, retreated behind closed doors — frightened U.S. voters turned their thoughts elsewhere. "The campaign has practically disappeared from people's screens," writes Philippe Corbé of the French radio station RTL. "Most Americans don't have their head in politics right now."

Still, the irony of the situation is bitter for Bernie backers, as the pandemic's rapid and deadly spread may have been the definitive proof that perhaps his most controversial stance — universal healthcare — is just plain common sense.

It's likely too that with unemployment numbers now soaring in the United States, more than a few Americans could benefit from the redistributive economic policies that the self-proclaimed democratic socialist championed.

"The coronavirus crisis turned everything that Mr. Sanders promised he was best equipped to do — fix the health care system, call out the dangers of a Trump presidency — into an agenda that was more urgent than ever for the country," Sydney Ember writes in The New York Times.

But in election cycles, timing is everything: As columnist Leo Aldridge writes in the Puerto Rican daily El Nuevo Día, "Politics is the art of the possible, and in this time of pandemia and uncertainty, a Sanders victory in the democratic primary process isn't possible."

Benjamin Witte

THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

  • Infection milestone: Confirmed cases around the world of those infected are approaching the 1.5 million mark.

  • Quarantine easing: Some European countries are starting to ease lockdown measures, with schools and nurseries in Denmark set to reopen on April 15 and Austria planning to reopen its shops in phases.

  • COVID ceasefire: Saudi-UAE coalition fighting Houthi rebels declares a 2-week unilateral ceasefire to help prevent a coronavirus outbreak in Yemen.

  • Oil factor: crucial talks between OPEC and non-OPEC oil-producing nations today to try to break deadlock over production levels that have combined with COVID-19 to put oil at a historic low.

  • How NYC got so bad: The surge in New York cases resulted largely from infected travellers who came from Europe, new study finds.

  • Boozeless in Bangkok: The Thai capital bans alcohol sales for 10 days to prevent residents from partying during Songkran, the Buddhist New Year.

  • Finally alone: A couple of giant pandas that had been living together for 10 years in a Hong Kong theme park without any — erm, action, apparently just needed some privacy.

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Geopolitics

Coronavirus — Global Brief: Calculating How Long It Will Last

For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on the coronavirus global pandemic. The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet is a blunt reminder of how small the world has become. Our network of multilingual journalists are busy finding out what's being reported locally — everywhere — to provide as clear a picture as possible of what it means for all of us at home, around the world. To receive the daily brief in your inbox, sign up here.

SPOTLIGHT:

For the first time in most peoples' lives, no matter where we are, we're living our days amid a swirl of statistics and news flashes that leaves us waking up the next morning with the same question. How big will it get?

So how is it that we can't, with the brainpower of all the virologists, biologists and public health officials around the world, figure out what COVID-19 will mean for our future?

Well, part of the problem is just that: the whole world. Experts are dealing with a sample size spanning all of humanity in which much of the information is missing, confusing or unreliable. In Iran, a clerical regime known for its opaqueness is believed to severely understate the already high number of 1,100 deaths — and the same now goes for Russia, with an equally dark record of state censorship, where only one death has been reported so far — a suspicious figure considering the country ranked 116th last year in the Global Health Security Index for "detecting" pandemics. But even in more open societies like the U.S. and Italy, overloaded institutions and slow rollout of diagnostic tests have blurred both the actual figures and geographical scope of the spread.

The hard truth is that even with more accurate numbers, we're missing many pieces of a puzzle that keeps multiplying: How strong is the immune response to a novel infection? How does the virus react to warmer weather? And how fast can it mutate? For now, we are left to stay at home, wonder, and wash our hands for longer than we're used to.​ At least that number we can be sure of: 20 seconds.

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Society

Eastern European Models Cash In For China's 'Singles Day'

BEIJING — These days, it is not rare to bump into blond, slim, pretty teenage girls on the streets of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. The majority of them, typically between 16 and 22 years old, come from Eastern Europe and are working temporarily as models in China.

The pace picks up in the late summer and autumn, as China's cross-border e-commerce portals prepare their fashion catalogues for the Christmas season, but also for Nov. 11, China's so-called "Singles' Day," celebrated each year by a fanatic e-commerce shopping spree, China News reported.

As shown in a recent survey by Alibaba, one of the world's largest online shopping retail platforms, there are some 10,000 would-be female models from around the world inquiring about jobs in China.

Holding a work visa for 90 days, these young women come and go like beautiful migrating birds. Some of them work for runway events or automobile shows. But even more are those in photo shoots of e-commerce apparel, not only for foreign buyers but also for Chinese shoppers, whose aesthetic standards have become more and more westernized.

Competition is fierce.

According to zhihu.com, a Chinese question-and-answer website, 70% of these arrivals are from Eastern Europe, including 36% Russians and 22% Ukrainians. The hourly pay varies between 1,000-3,000 RMB ($144-$430), compared to average monthly wages of around $900 in Russia.

Marina is 16 and comes from Ukraine. She arrived in China in July hoping to make some pocket money during her summer vacation. She is one of seven young Eastern European models of a Chinese agency which houses them in a small flat in Hangzhou, where Alibaba's headquarters are. They all sleep in basic single beds. "This is my dream come true," Marina says.

Still, the competition is fierce. After being in China for two months, Marina has only found seven days of work: once for a catwalk, the others for prints or internet ads. She was paid 700 RMB ($100) an hour, quite a bit lower than the average quotation. "They prefer models with experience", she says.

Society
Worldcrunch

Free Fight Or Tai Chi? Ancient Dispute Settled In 20 Seconds

A decades-old argument might just have been settled: Modern "mixed martial arts' fighter vs. Tai Chi master — who wins?"

In a recently filmed fight, Xu Xiaodong, a Beijing-based mixed martial arts freestyle coach, duked it out with Wei Lei, a famous Tai Chi master from Sichuan. It took less than 20 seconds for Xu to knock out Wei.

Riding the momentum, Xu confidently challenged fighters of any other discipline, including Li Tianjin, another renowned Tai Chi master and Ma Yun's bodyguard, the Taiwan-based United Daily News reported.

The question has spurred new debate on the age-old question among the Chinese diaspora, where both approaches to combat are followed. Among those duking it out online were Ma Yun, the founder of the Chinese internet giant Alibaba, and Jet Li, the Chinese movie star who has held many roles as a martial arts master.

Amused by all the excitement, Ma Yun, on a business trip to Argentina and Mexico, responded on his blog "This is a show where actors and spectators interact best. Pity that some take it too seriously!"

Calling himself a fan of both Tai Chi and freestyle fighting, the Chinese tycoon recalled that he used to walk for miles as a child just to watch a cockfight. And since he was in college, he has had no fewer than eight Tai Chi coaches.

Tai Chi is a martial art, and a Tai Chi master may of course participate in a fight, but those who practice Tai Chi rarely reach the level of a professional fighter, Ma noted. "Most people practice Tai Chi gymnastics, or they are just amateurs who enjoy gathering in a park for exercise", he said.

Chicken v. duck? Apple v. orange?

The question of which style is better for combat misses the point, because the two disciplines have different rules. Ma says it would be "like comparing the number of points scored in a basketball game and a soccer match. It's like comparing a chicken with a duck."

Jet Li, the actor, won several championships in Wushu, a traditional martial art, before making his debut in the film Shaolin Temple and subsequently starring in numerous Kung Fu films. Reacting to the video of last week's fight, he called for continued support for Tai Chi as a sport. Referring to his own discipline, he said, "In ancient times, Wushu was a lethal combat technique. But these days it is more about style than substance."