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Covid Journals: Quarantine and care packages in Taiwan

During the Fall 2020 Semester, The Oppy will be publishing submissions from members of the Stern community about how the Covid-19 Pandemic has impacted their experience in and out of the program. If you wish to write about your own experience, please e-mail us at oppy@stern.nyu.edu. 

The following entry comes from MBA student Stacy Chen.

I grew up in Taiwan and moved to the United States when I was 13 years old. Since then, I’ve managed to go back twice a year to visit my family, while two times every year they made the reciprocal trip here. This year was, of course, different. 

Due to the pandemic, I haven’t been able to see most of my family for a year, so I decided to finish out the rest of the semester remotely and spend the holidays back in Taiwan, where I would have to complete a strict two-week quarantine. 


Traveling to the States was a vastly different experience compared to traveling to Taiwan. When I landed in Taipei, each passenger was required to fill out a health declaration form with a valid local sim card so our local police department could track our location as part of its rigorous contact tracing program. We were then guided by personnel to an area where they double-checked our forms and gave us instructions for home quarantine.

As COVID cases set new records around the world, the Taiwanese government has also issued a new provision as of Dec. 1 requiring all travelers coming into the country to provide a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test issued within “3 days of the scheduled boarding time to the airline staff before they can board their flight,” according to Taiwan’s CDC.

Since the beginning of the outbreak, Taiwan has been lauded for being one of the few countries that took action early and successfully contained the spread of the virus. As of Dec. 11, Taiwan, with a population of 23 million, has had 724 confirmed cases and seven deaths, a shockingly low number considering the island’s close proximity to China.

Taiwan’s effective handling of the virus is largely due to the policies implemented during the SARS outbreak of 2003. With a centralized command center, the government was able to take early and aggressive action to restrict travels, establish contact tracing, amp up production of PPE, and utilize big data, enabling its citizens to live a relatively safe and normal life.

On my way home from the airport, I saw just that. Crowded streets, shops, schools and restaurants where most people still wore masks despite having almost no locally transmitted cases.


I was lucky and was able to quarantine in my own apartment. For those who aren’t able to, the government offers subsidies and stipends to help with the cost of a hotel room. 

A few hours after I got home, I received a call from our local health official explaining what the next 14 days would look like. They would text and call me twice a day during my quarantine to check on my health status. If I failed to answer the phone or stay within my house, it would result in a visit by local police and lead to a fine of up to $35,000.

 

As promised, the call came twice everyday along with texts for a daily survey. On the second day, I also received a care package from the same local health official filled with snacks, trash bags, masks, and a thermometer.

The next two weeks quickly fell into a routine of calls, take out, Netflix, and, as usual, Stern kept me busy with finals and recruitment so the time went by quicker than I thought. 

Although I’ve heard friends and families talk about their quarantine experience in Taiwan, witnessing it firsthand was eye-opening. I was impressed with the robust protocols, well-designed contingency plans, and clear communication throughout the whole process.

Though the system is not perfect and the restrictions were inconvenient, Taiwan has managed to keep a semblance of a normal, everyday life for its citizens during a difficult and chaotic year.

Now, I’m just looking forward to the simple pleasures, like going to the movie theater, visiting my grandma, and reading a good book at a coffee shop. With cautious optimism, hopefully we’ll all get back some normalcy and move into the new year with a renewed sense of gratitude and perspective. 

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