For over a year, the people of Taiwan were virtually the only people in the world to lead normal lives. Until a few weeks ago, the terraces of bars were packed in central Taipei, like restaurants and theaters. Until the discovery, at the beginning of May, of Covid-19 clusters in the capital: one, at the end of April, at the Novotel hotel at the international airport – where it all began -, the other, in mid -May, in the hostess bar district of Wanhua District. The daily life of the inhabitants then changed, following a movement opposite to that of the West. The streets are now deserted, schools, bars and sports halls closed, and take-out is compulsory for restaurants.
If the number of daily contaminations (between 300 and 600) remains much lower than the American or French levels, its sudden increase, after months of dead calm, has created a shock wave. While it peaked at 1,129 positive cases and 12 deaths at the end of April, the toll jumped to 8,511 infections and 124 deaths a month later. “We’ve never known here, so obviously people panic a bit,” says Dai-Yun, a self-employed worker in her thirties, who, like many, rushed to the supermarket to stock up. “This worries me all the more since we are not at all immune to Covid-19”, adds Ms. Luo, a retiree. As of May 31, less than 1.8% of the population had received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Long shown as an example, Taiwan’s strategy (control at the airport, quarantine, tracing of positive cases) has been severely tested by the irruption – via a pilot – of the British variant, which is much more contagious. “We were not sufficiently prepared. And the authorities probably did not understand early enough that it was necessary to control the pandemic by vaccination”, summarizes Ruby Huang, professor at the National Taiwan University. The PCR testing capacity – officially 24,000 people per day – is saturated. Above all, the government is sorely lacking in vaccines – it had received less than 900,000 doses at the end of May, for a population of 23.6 million.
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Like other East Asian states, the former Formosa is a victim of its initial success in the fight against the pandemic. But the offensive of China – which claims the island as an integral part of its territory – has greatly complicated the situation. “Beijing, which has been irritated by the way in which Taiwan has been set up as a model, seeks to destabilize the current government”, summarizes Chunhuei Chi, professor of international health at Oregon State University (United States) . For this, the Middle Kingdom regularly offers to provide him with vaccines. But, according to the regulations in force, local authorities cannot import this type of sensitive organic products from China.
The Asian giant takes advantage of this refusal to activate its propaganda machine, which is relayed in full swing on the island by the Kuomintang (KMT), the opposition party, in favor of a rapprochement with the continent, unlike the Democratic Progressive Party in power. Figures of the KMT continue to criticize the “passivity” of the government, which prefers, according to them, to designate China rather than the coronavirus as “enemy”, at a time when “lives are at stake”. Added to this are the disinformation campaigns launched by Beijing on social networks. “The purpose of these attacks is to create panic. Some false information exaggerates the extent of the epidemic in Taiwan,” says researcher Puma Shen, director of the organization Doublethink Lab, specializing in the monitoring of fake news. A fake newspaper account Liberty Times thus claimed that crematoriums in Taipei burned bodies “en masse”.
Allies under pressure
“All of this creates anxiety, which is exploited by China to advance its political agenda,” added Kolas Yotaka, spokesperson for Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. On top of that, our diplomatic allies are under pressure to abandon us in exchange for Chinese vaccines. ” This is the case of Guatemala and Honduras, in Latin America, 2 of the last 15 countries to officially recognize Taiwan.
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Always quick to isolate the island, the communist regime does everything to keep it outside the World Health Organization. Tsai Ing-wen accused Beijing of intervening to derail a contract with the German company BioNTech for 5 million doses of vaccine. Taipei is now focusing on manufacturing its own products, which is supposed to start this summer. And hopes that its partners, the United States in the lead, will provide it. There is no doubt that the government will wield a weighty argument: the stability of the local semiconductor industry, crucial for the rest of the planet.