In years to come I’ll be able to tell the tale of how I spent the bulk of the pandemic in an alternate reality. Last year, while much of the world was in lockdown, I was frolicking among crowds in Taipei, attending rock concerts without a mask and regularly grabbing dinner with large groups of friends. And in the summer of 2021, as the Western world was finally opening up, I was in lockdown.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Taiwan managed to avoid lockdowns through rigorous contact tracing and home-quarantine measures for all arrivals. Life was relatively normal – until it wasn’t. This May, with more than a year of pandemic normality under its belt, the country began to let down its guard. In late April the virus escaped from a quarantine hotel; cases exploded for the first time and Taiwan was put into a soft lockdown.
The timing could not have been more inopportune. It was a moment when the rest of the world seemed to be opening up and Taiwan was forging travel bubbles with its allies – but vaccine supplies began dwindling here as a result of failed contracts and politicking. Most notably the Taiwanese government refused to buy vaccines from China, which holds regional distribution rights to Pfizer-Biontech shots. When Taiwan sought to buy them directly from the German biotechnology company, China blocked the deal.
But nearly three months after the crisis began, the situation seems to have abated once again, with fewer than 20 coronavirus cases a day and a robust inoculation campaign thanks to vaccine donations from allies such as the US, Japan, Lithuania and Slovakia. The lockdown has finally been lifted but out of an abundance of caution, pandemic measures remain strict: all arrivals to Taiwan are put into mandatory hotel quarantine and must take three coronavirus tests within the span of two weeks before being released. Masks are required at all times both indoors and out, and while indoor dining has technically resumed, many restaurants are still voluntarily halting service. In three months, Taiwan’s first-dose vaccination rate has risen above 30 per cent. It has become clear that no matter how diligent a country is in suppressing cases, vaccines are the only way to end this pandemic once and for all.
Clarissa Wei is a Monocle contributor in Taiwan.