The World Health Organization’s World Health Assembly recently held its annual meeting. In the opening remarks, WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, called on all member states to prioritize health over geopolitical divisions, elaborating that “we are one big family.” Ironically, WHO treated Taiwan as an unwanted child by relentlessly ousting it from this “big family.”
Taiwan is less than 100 miles from mainland China. Though the island is densely populated, with 23 million people, Taiwan has had a total of only 600 cases and seven deaths so far from the COVID-19 pandemic this year. What’s even more remarkable is that Taiwan was able to contain the spread of coronavirus while managing to keep schools and businesses open. In fact, Taiwanese residents saw little disruption in their lives. For the first half of this year, while numerous other countries experienced economic recessions due to government lockdowns, Taiwan managed to grow its economy by 1.5 percent. While other countries are experiencing a second wave of the pandemic this fall, Taiwan hasn’t recorded a single new local case for the last seven months.
How did Taiwan do it? First and foremost, Taiwan took decisive action early. While Beijing and WHO were still busy downplaying the coronavirus’s human-to-human transmission risks, Taiwan took swift action as soon as it heard about the mysterious pneumonia outbreak in Wuhan. On December 31, 2019, Taiwanese health officials began to board planes and check passengers for fever and pneumonia symptoms before passengers could deplane. Taiwan also issued a travel ban on Wuhan residents as early as January 23.
Second, Taiwan used technology effectively to differentiate people’s treatments based on their risk level. For example, Taiwan launched an Entry Quarantine System on February 14, so that travelers can complete the health-declaration form by scanning a QR code that leads to an online form, either before departure from or upon arrival at a Taiwan airport. Those with low risk receive a health-declaration border pass via SMS (short message service) to their phones so they can get immigration clearance faster and get on with their lives, while those have higher risk are “quarantined at home and tracked through their mobile phone to ensure that they remained at home during the incubation period.” This targeted approach — rather than indiscriminate lockdowns — is what many Western scientists and health officials are now advocating through the Great Barrington Declaration, a public petition calling for an end to the lockdowns and returning life to its pre-pandemic norms, except for the most vulnerable groups of our population.
Other effective action-taking that Taiwan demonstrated include making tests widely available, instituting effective contact tracing, increasing funding for and production of masks, and starting the rationing of masks before the public had any chance to hoard them.
Taiwan is without doubt one of the very few success stories in the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. It demonstrated how a free society can address the threat of a pandemic without infringing on people’s freedom. Governments around the world could have learned an incredible amount about effective pandemic control from Taiwan — if it had been allowed to share its experiences at the World Health Assembly’s annual meeting. However, WHO blocked Taiwan from the meeting due to Communist China’s objection.
For years, Taiwan has attended WHO’s annual policy meeting as an observer. Then Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the Democratic Progress Party (DPP), became Taiwan’s fourth democratically elected (and first female) president in 2016. Concerned with Tsai’s intent to move Taiwan closer to independence, Beijing increased its pressure campaign against Taiwan. Beijing insists on treating Taiwan as merely one of its provinces and has never ruled out taking control of the island by force — the People’s Liberation Army fired missiles into the waters near Taiwan after Tsai’s election. Under Beijing’s pressure, WHO officially ejected Taiwan in 2016. This decision would have significant ramifications in the COVID-19 outbreak of 2019–20.
During the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, WHO did not consider including Taiwan in the organization’s emergency meetings, despite the island’s geographical proximity to mainland China. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Taiwan often must rely on second-hand information relayed by friendly governments and nongovernmental organizations” to manage its response.
As the coronavirus began to spread in China, and soon around the globe, WHO ignored Taiwan’s warnings about human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus as well as its successful methods of containing the epidemic. Further, WHO proceeded to include coronavirus cases reported by Taiwan in total cases for mainland China, and it continues to refer to Taiwan as a high-risk area — even though Taiwan’s numbers are minuscule compared with mainland China’s 86,338 cases and 4,634 deaths.
Director-General Tedros has not publicly acknowledged Taiwan’s success. Instead, he has gone out of his way to praise Beijing, help the CCP deflect blame, and repeat Beijing’s talking points, including its dismissal of early reports of human-to-human transmission. He kept praising Beijing’s openness and transparency, even though in private, WHO officials had been frustrated with Beijing’s slow response and selective sharing of information, which often came at the very last minute. Beijing’s unwillingness to disclose information and do so on a timely basis, coupled with WHO’s eagerness to let Beijing dictate the organization’s actions, kept countries worldwide from taking effective actions to contain the spread of the coronavirus in the crucial early days of the outbreak.
Calling WHO a “pipe organ” for Communist China, President Trump attempted to combat its inaction by temporarily suspending funding to the organization, and he later announced that the United States would withdraw its membership of WHO in 2021. Yet it seems that even such a big financial blow failed to persuade WHO to change its behavior.
This November, WHO not only blocked Taiwan from attending the organization’s annual meeting but also directed its censors to block anyone from typing any words and phrases that Beijing doesn’t like in the comment section during the organization’s livestreaming of the conference. Words that were censored included “Taiwan,” “Wuhan Virus,” “China Virus,” and “TaiwanCanHelp.” It seems that instead of choosing health, as it insists other countries should, WHO chose to let politics drive its health decisions.
WHO should realize that the organization itself is one of the biggest losers in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization’s pathetic kowtowing to Beijing and its inexcusably poor treatment of Taiwan during a global health crisis have seriously damaged the organization’s credibility and reputation. If WHO is serious about containing the COVID-19 pandemic, and if it wants to remain a credible leader in global health issues, it must keep politics out of its decision-making process. How about letting Taiwan speak for a change?