Chen Shi-chung, 陳時中, as the Taiwanese Minister of Health and Welfare since 2017, has presided over the Taiwanese government’s response to the Wuhan Coronavirus crisis since it began in late 2019. In what for more than a year was widely regarded as a stellar response without few parallels, with strict curbs on entry and exit to prevent the virus from spreading domestically in the first place, even with the expense of economic friction, the state was seen both within the country and abroad as prioritizing public health and human life.
As reported by the FCP and others, the CECC had, in late 2020, shifted priorities.
They placed lighter quarantine requirements on flight crews, likely to reduce pressure on airlines. In December 2020, this led to a pilot infecting several others, triggering the first domestic spread in 250 days.
The CECC realized the severity of their misstep and increased the quarantine requirements in the same month. After the Lunar New Year, perhaps because of pressure from the airline industry, the CECC rescinded those requirements in March, and then further loosened them in mid-April of 2021.
By late April, this led to a cluster infection within China Airlines, but after this significantly more severe outbreak, it took the CECC nearly two months to reinstate stricter rules. This scandal is now being labelled the 3+11 issue in Taiwanese media, for the three days of full quarantine and then eleven days of unsupervised self-quarantine required for flight crews. It was the object of focus for the local partisan media, with Taipei mayor Ko Wen-che, 柯文哲, expressing support for the CECC head.
For his part Chen Shih-chung has deflected all responsibility, despite the government’s acknowledgement of the mistake in their correction to the rule, by blaming the domestic outbreak on another cluster linked to weak management of quarantine hotels.
In the wake of their blunder, the CECC has proceeded erratically, and many of the rules but in place and vaccination requirements have been due to public pressure rather than a reasoned strategy or any scientific basis.
Schools and in-person dining were closed until late July, but traditional markets, crowded offices, and tightly packed public transportation were left wide open, including during major holidays.
Some vaccines were bought and distributed, however the quantities bought were insufficient, with many frontline workers only receiving a single dose of AstraZeneca’s (AZ) second tier vaccine in March with no second doses becoming available until late August.
This has meant that as of September 6th, the government was touting its success in that the single-dose vaccination rate was 44%, but in reality, the full vaccination rate was just over 4%.
Public health workers have recently been given mixed vaccination regiments, because of largescale shortages. This decision was made without any largescale clinical testing of the safety or efficacy of mixing AZ and Taiwan’s local vaccine, Medigen. As of yet, other public employees including most teachers have still only received a single AZ dose.
After more than two months of contact tracing and lockdowns, with domestic cases down to around 10 per day from more than 500, the government self-imposed an arbitrary deadline to re-evaluate the restaurant and school lockdowns.
The CECC decided not to wait until the cases reached zero, or even wait until there were persistently less than 30 new domestic infections per day. They instead followed what dozens of other industrialized countries had done, and re-opened without ensuring there were no residual cases, succumbing to political pressure rather than following science.
The CECC decided that the restaurant, bar, and cram school industry were more politically valuable to them than the human lives that would be lost, and the economic instability caused by a persistent slow burn pandemic that they were utterly incapable of getting under control.
It has now been more than a month since the Level 3 control was dropped to Level 2. An entirely new outbreak has now been caused by mismanagement and weak protocols, again regarding pilots, this time involving the Delta strain spreading domestically.
This means that with most Taiwanese having received the AstraZeneca vaccine, 90% of the vaccinated Taiwanese people, less than half of the population, have only about 30% protection against the new outbreak, according to new data from the New England Journal of Medicine.
The CECC has utterly failed to bring the pandemic under control after their repeated failures, and now are replacing Level 3 lockdowns in the North because of their gross mismanagement and inexplicable inability to anticipate the obvious explosion in cases brought about by their ill-planned, poorly coordinated, and premature rule relaxations.
There is, as of yet, no way to balance fully public health and economic buoyancy in the coronavirus era. The state must either sacrifice one, or lose control of both. The eagerness of the CECC, and the elites who control it, to restart schools and repay graft has meant that more Taiwanese must die for the hubris of Chen Shih-chung.