Taiwan vows meaningful cooperation with Myanmar amid COVID-19 threats

Originally expected to be a major COVID-19 hotspot, Taiwan has so far weathered the novel coronavirus’ high transmission rate with a stunning record.

Streets in Taiwan, despite being less crowded, still see people strolling around and even queueing for bubble tea. Many business activities seem to continue as usual, though with extra caution and the wide use of masks.

With Taiwan’s close proximity and frequent people-exchange with China, the 23-million democracy, with a similar size to the Netherlands, has seen slightly more than 500 confirmed cases as of Friday. The latter, however, has witnessed over 35 thousand cases out of their 17-million population.

Charles Li, Taiwan’s representative in Myanmar, told The Myanmar Times that the key to Taiwan’s success is “early action” and “the use of technology” like artificial intelligence (AI) and big data.

Having learned lessons from the SARS outbreak in 2003, and despite being excluded from the World Health Organization (WHO), Taiwan has been in a state of constant readiness to the threat of emerging infectious disease, he said.

In terms of business and economy, Myanmar has been included in Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy with increasing business interest from Taiwan since 2016. Mr Li stressed that the key to a good bilateral relationship was cooperation instead of donorship, and Taiwan’s investment came with “no strings attached”.

In a recent interview, Mr Li spoke about Taiwan’s coronavirus experience and Taiwanese businesses in Myanmar:

What are some experiences Taiwan could share with Myanmar in fighting COVID-19?

Shortly after receiving information about cases of human-to-human transmission in Wuhan in late December 2019, Taiwan established a response team and activated the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC). We also implemented plans for border quarantine straight away, including onboard quarantine, fever screening, health declarations, and a 14-day home quarantine for passengers arriving from specific countries.

To enhance the effective monitoring of people in quarantine, Taiwan also established an electronic system that enabled data entry via mobile phone. All the information is connected to the community care support management system, and the passenger’s travel history details are stored on the National Health Insurance card to alert doctors. GPS tracking is allowed to monitor those in home-quarantine or isolation. Offenders will be fined or subject to mandatory placement.

In the meantime, Taiwan has also increased its laboratory testing capacity, expanded the scope of surveillance and inspections based on trends of the COVID-19 epidemic, and even tested people with higher risk who had already tested negative.

Secondly, we announced a travel alert, which was followed by a border quarantine system to identify any imported cases. Essentially, we took advanced preventive measures, kept all the information transparent and utilised AI and Big Data technology from the very beginning.

How does Taiwan seek to assist Myanmar in fighting the coronavirus?

We understand the situation is completely different in Myanmar from Taiwan. Therefore, we had meetings with high-ranking officials with both Ministry of Health and Sports and the Yangon Regional Health Department to understand how well Myanmar was prepared. We evaluated the situation and referred our recommendations to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Taiwan to consider delivering much-needed aid as soon as possible.

In terms of capacity-building, we coordinated with stakeholders here and in Taiwan to co-host two online conferences to share our experiences combating COVID-19. Representatives from the Myanmar Medical Association (MMA), officials from the union and regional levels, and doctors from various hospitals were included. Starting from April 24, a series of online seminars have also been hosted by hospitals in Taiwan. All are welcome to participate and details can be found on the website of this representative offices.

Since February there has been a significant price surge in surgical masks, so Taiwan has donated 70,000 high-quality masks. About 20,000 have gone to the union government, while the rest has been donated to Yangon – where the majority of cases are. The second batch is expected to arrive in early May.

Although Taiwan has been excluded from participation in the World Health Assembly, even as an observer, we have received strong support from all over the world for our partnerships and response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

How did Taiwan manage to donate masks when the demand for masks was so high, and what can Myanmar learn from this?

We experienced a serious shortage of masks ourselves two months ago. Starting in late January, Taiwan banned the export of surgical masks, requisitioned masks, and expanded domestic production.

On February 6, Taiwan launched a name-based rationing system for mask purchases. It added an ordering system for masks on March 12, allowing people to order online and pick up masks at convenience stores. These measures have helped us achieve an effective allocation of limited resources and meet healthcare, epidemic prevention, household, and industrial needs.

Now as we in Taiwan expand our daily production of masks to 15 million, the first batch of mask donations arrived in Myanmar on April 17.

To echo the appeal of State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the masks were donated together with other medical equipment from our business friends to show our support and appreciation to the medical workers for their dedicated, selfless service and sacrifice.

We are glad to know some companies here in Yangon already began manufacturing masks to meet the local demand. If necessary, some Taiwanese companies will be interested in setting up production lines here too.

What measures should the Myanmar government be commended for?

Generally speaking, Myanmar is doing very well so far, and I wish to commend the leadership of the Union and Regional Governments. Some measures have been stricter than those in Taiwan. For example, the banning of all commercial flights landing in Myanmar, the partial lockdown imposed on different regions and townships, and the ban of government staff from the new year travel. These measures have so far proved to be effective, albeit tough and unimaginable for many other democracies.

Taiwanese manufacturers also play an important role in Myanmar’s industry. How have they coped with the COVID-19 disruptions?

To begin with, I would like to highlight that all Taiwanese manufacturers operating in Myanmar are responsible investors. They have played an essential part in contributing to economic development, and employment in Myanmar.

To effectively combat the spread of COVID-19, nearly 300 Taiwanese companies follow the Union and Regional Governments’ order and directives to lock down for inspection. However, some of them are still waiting to be inspected so that they can resume sooner rather than later, while their workforce and materials are ready.

Although I would say the employer-employee relations of Taiwanese companies are among the best by any standard, they still encounter external trade unionists’ interventions. This could be a great obstacle for us when encouraging new Taiwanese investors when they establish manufacturing facilities here.

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Source : Myanmar Times

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