With eye on China’s zero-Covid chaos, Taiwan seizes chance to open up.
The tables at his diner in the Taiwanese capital are buzzing with customers, waiters bustle with dishes of squid soup and rice noodles, and talk and laughter fills the air.
Chen considers himself lucky. Taiwan is allowing restaurants like his to remain open despite a wave of Covid infections – hitting more than 60,000 cases on Thursday alone – sweeping through the island.
Things might have been so different. Until recently the island had taken a zero-tolerance approach to the virus: Chen’s business was shut for more than two months during the last major outbreak in May 2021, dealing a blow to his employees – and his bottom line – that left him “heartbroken.”
But since then, the Taiwanese government has had a profound rethink. What was until recently one of the world’s last zero-Covid holdouts has now switched its mindset to living with the virus – prompted by the realization that even the toughest contact-tracing and quarantine regimes are no match for the highly transmissible Omicron variant, as demonstrated by the chaos playing out across the Taiwan Strait in China
For Chen, it’s a welcome shift that has ensured his business can continue relatively unaffected by the outbreak. While he remains concerned about the virus, he believes the best approach is to learn from other east Asian economies – such as Singapore – that have managed to navigate similar changes in mindset.
Taiwan’s reopening is in stark contrast to Shanghai. There, in a desperate effort to cling to its zero-Covid ideals, China is resorting to ever more stringent measures in an attempt to rein in an Omicron outbreak that has infected hundreds of thousands of people.
Chaotic scenes of angry confrontations between Shanghai residents and police officers trying to force people into quarantine have received widespread coverage in Taiwanese media, helping to sway public opinion on the island by offering a pointed reminder of the sacrifices required by zero-Covid policies.
“It is really tough for him. We don’t discuss it on the political front, but my brother has been under quarantine for 45 days without being able to leave his home. At least he can still order takeaways – in some neighborhoods people can’t and they have to wait for the government to send supplies.”
Taiwan’s reopening furthers isolates China as perhaps the last major economy in the world to still be following a zero-Covid policy. Even Hong Kong, which had long clinged to the model in an effort to reopen its borders with the Chinese mainland, has been loosening its restrictions after a recent Omicron-driven wave sent its death rate per capita rocketing at one point to the highest in Asia.