The tables at his diner within the Taiwanese capital are buzzing with prospects, waiters bustle with dishes of squid soup and rice noodles, and speak and laughter fills the air.
Chen considers himself fortunate. Taiwan is permitting eating places like his to stay open regardless of a wave of Covid infections — hitting greater than 60,000 instances on Thursday alone — sweeping via the island.
Issues might need been so totally different. Till lately the island had taken a zero-tolerance method to the virus: Chen’s enterprise was shut for greater than two months over the past main outbreak in Could 2021, dealing a blow to his staff — and his backside line — that left him “heartbroken.”
“We have been fortunate to have survived and moved on from it,” he mentioned.
For Chen, it is a welcome shift that has ensured his enterprise can proceed comparatively unaffected by the outbreak. Whereas he stays involved concerning the virus, he believes one of the best method is to study from different east Asian economies — akin to Singapore — which have managed to navigate comparable modifications in mindset.
“I believe we have to overcome our fears, and tread rigorously step-by-step,” he mentioned.
A story of two cities
Many neighborhoods in Shanghai, the place there’s a sizeable Taiwanese group, have been locked down for weeks.
It is a distinction not misplaced on Chen, whose brother lives in Shanghai.
“It’s actually powerful for him. We do not talk about it on the political entrance, however my brother has been below quarantine for 45 days with out with the ability to go away his residence. At the very least he can nonetheless order takeaways — in some neighborhoods individuals cannot and so they have to attend for the federal government to ship provides.”
Classes from Shanghai
It is usually displays a recognition that the daybreak of Omicron variant left zero-Covid economies with a alternative: both double down like China on ever extra stringent measures or use the chance afforded by excessive vaccination charges to open up.
Final month, President Tsai Ing-wen selected the latter, saying Taiwan would give attention to making certain regular lives for its residents as a lot as potential, reasonably than aiming for zero infections.
Mockingly, it’s the freedom the island loved throughout its lengthy interval of zero-Covid that made that alternative inevitable, mentioned Chen Chien-jen, who served as Taiwan’s vice chairman between 2016 and 2020.
“Within the final two years, individuals loved a really free life right here — they lived usually and went to work usually. So we do not like metropolis lockdowns or mass testing, and we do not assume it’s helpful to manage the unfold of the virus,” Chen mentioned.
As an alternative, mentioned Chen, who’s now an epidemiologist at Academia Sinica, the milder variant had introduced a possibility because it has “a really excessive infectivity, however fairly low charges of extreme instances and deaths” amongst vaccinated populations. So far, 18.8 million Taiwanese, or 79% of the inhabitants are absolutely vaccinated with two photographs, in line with College of Oxford’s Our World in Information challenge.
“(Taiwanese individuals) noticed the lockdown conditions in Shanghai, Zhengzhou, and Beijing, and we do not think about it actually mandatory to make use of metropolis lockdowns to include the Omicron variant. It is rather troublesome, a mission not possible.”
Chen mentioned Taiwan ought to now give attention to rising the protection of Covid-19 boosters, in addition to rising the distribution of antiviral medicine and speedy diagnostic kits to the group.
The federal government’s determination has been well-liked. Most residents who spoke to CNN mentioned they felt Taiwan’s new Covid-19 method was preferable to the strict lockdown measures imposed in mainland China.
Jeff Huang, a Taipei resident who lived in mainland China for a number of years, felt it was not possible to eradicate the virus.
“If we nonetheless had harsh restrictions like within the (Chinese language) mainland even after vaccination, it could be very painful and there can be no level in getting the vaccines,” he mentioned.
A beacon of hope?
But when Taiwan’s method is partly pushed by a need to keep away from a Shanghai-like destiny, there are additionally optimists who marvel if it may have an impact in the other way — offering hope to locked-down Chinese language cities that there’s certainly a approach out of the zero-Covid nook.
Chen Chien-jen, who as vice chairman had led Taiwan’s early Covid-19 response, mentioned many Taiwanese individuals have been initially skeptical of abandoning the elimination technique as a result of it had been profitable for therefore lengthy in sustaining a low price of group transmission.
Taiwan had beforehand skilled just one main outbreak of Covid-19 — in Could final 12 months. That point it banned in-person eating, closed leisure venues, and suspended faculties to manage the unfold. It then managed to maintain case numbers at zero or near zero till as lately as March 15 this 12 months.
However as the newest outbreak grew, Taiwanese individuals realized that with a much less extreme variant and excessive vaccination ranges the island may afford to reside with it.
The rewards are clear to see. Quarantine for abroad arrivals has been minimize from 14 to seven days. The necessary scanning of QR codes earlier than coming into eating places and retailers has been scrapped. Shut contacts of confirmed sufferers at the moment are required to quarantine for simply three days.
There may be one other profit, too: not combating a futile battle. As Chen put it: “We are able to see that zero-Covid coverage can by no means attain the aim of completely eliminating the virus in any nation.”
Nonetheless, not everyone seems to be satisfied Taiwan is absolutely ready to maneuver on.
Because the starting of Could, as case numbers spiked, lengthy queues have fashioned in entrance of pharmacies throughout Taipei every day as residents scramble to buy speedy take a look at kits. Many go away empty handed regardless of queuing for hours.
The Well being Ministry has mentioned these with out Covid-19 signs should first take a look at optimistic on a speedy take a look at if they’re to be eligible for a extra correct PCR take a look at, which has solely heightened demand.
The problem of buying the take a look at kits has prompted some residents to complain concerning the authorities’ lack of preparedness.
“It might have been higher for residents to (be ready) earlier than we moved in direction of residing with the virus,” mentioned a mom surnamed Hsueh, who has a 3-year-old boy. “Many households nonetheless don’t have ample entry to speedy take a look at kits.”
Different mother and father worry their kids, who’re nonetheless not eligible for vaccination in Taiwan, are weak.
“I really feel like the federal government has not thought of kids of their transfer towards residing with the virus,” mentioned one other mom surnamed Chang, whose two kids are in kindergarten. “I’m apprehensive… I’ve averted taking my kids to indoor playgrounds, and I solely take them to parks when there are fewer individuals.”
“Proper now, there are modifications to the principles day by day or two,” Hsueh mentioned. “It may be actually complicated, and it’s higher to have a plan.”