Impacts of COVID-19 in Taiwan: Early success in pandemic control, but how long will it last?
by Ching-Yu Huang (Keele University, UK), An-Ti Shih (National Taipei University, Taiwan), & Fen-Ling Chen (National Taipei University, Taiwan)
Taiwan, an island nation off the southeast coast of China that hosts 23 million people, has gone through a unique trajectory during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to its close geographical, economic, and socio-political ties with China, Taiwan was one of the first countries to enforce border control and PCR tests on passengers from Wuhan starting 31st December 2019. Before the WHO declared COVID-19 as a pandemic on 11th March 2020 and several countries around the world entered into lockdown, the Taiwanese government had already enforced various preventative measures such as contact tracing, border control, facemask rationing, cancelling large gatherings etc. These early response and preventative measures had contributed to the success of pandemic control: as of July 2020, there were less than 500 COVID cases (with 7 deaths) in Taiwan, and the country had never entered any form of lockdown.
However, the success in containing the pandemic early on did not mean that it had not affected family lives in Taiwan. Our study draws on our survey of 197 parents of school-aged children in Taiwan to illustrate how the pandemic had affected their lives between June and August 2020. We will discuss how these families endorse and follow the pandemic control measures, how they are impacted in terms of their job, and finally how their domestic lives were affected.
Endorsing pandemic control measures
Between June and August 2020, there was strict border control for international travel, not allowing any foreign visitors into Taiwan, and Taiwanese citizens were not allowed to travel abroad for non-essential reasons. Other than travel restrictions, for citizens traveling back to Taiwan, a 14-day quarantine period with mobile phone contact tracing was mandatory. Overall, our participants mostly agreed (over 90%) with these border control measures and followed them (over 90%). In terms of lives within Taiwan, the government rationed facemask distribution, enforcing facemask wearing in public transportation, encouraging social distancing, cancelling large gatherings, and suspended certain industries. These domestic pandemic control measures were still met with high levels of agreement (over 80%) and adherence (over 85%). Such high levels of endorsement of the pandemic control measures reflected the collective spirit of the citizens as well as the success in public health education and campaigns, especially after experiencing the SARS epidemic in 2003.
Influences on jobs and employment
On a superficial level, daily lives in Taiwan at the time did not seem to be affected much, except for aspects relating to the pandemic control measures (such as not being able to travel internationally and needing to wear face masks in public). In reality, working lives had been affected more than expected given how well Taiwan seemed to be controlling the pandemic. More than half (56%) of our participants reported that their income was not affected by the pandemic, and 3% of the participants reported an increase in their income due to the pandemic; 39% of the participants reported a decrease in their income, and a further 2% of participants reported losing their income/job due to the pandemic. Moreover, the majority (62%) of our participants reported expecting no lasting impact of the pandemic on their jobs. When asked about how the pandemic affected their way of working, 42% reported that their work was not affected, 37% reported a reduced workload, 9.6% reported their way of working was changed (such as remote working) and 2% lost their job. Overall, nearly 40% of the participants’ working lives were affected negatively by the pandemic.
Marriage, parenting and wellbeing
When it comes to domestic lives, parents generally felt the same about their feeling of competency as a parent (81%) and their co-parenting responsibilities (86%), and majority of them expected that the pandemic will not have long-lasting impact on their parenting (89%). Similarly, most of them (86%) also said that their relationship quality with their partner/spouse was unaffected. However, more than half of them felt moderately to extremely stressed (63%) and anxious (58%) during the pandemic period. This suggested that the pandemic situation in Taiwan did not affect the daily child-care and spousal interaction too much, as schools, child-care facilities, and most employment sectors remained open, but the ever-changing pandemic situation and the invisible health threat can still take a toll on the participants’ mental wellbeing.
Conclusion and future trajectory
From our study, we could see that people generally endorsed and followed the pandemic prevention measures and that their daily lives were not affected too much, which reflected the Taiwanese government’s success in the beginning of the pandemic by taking preventative actions and strict restrictions swiftly. However, since May 2021 there have been spikes in case numbers and local infections resulting from relaxed quarantine restrictions for airline staff members. The country is now going into a tier-based lockdown. Fighting with the ever-changing global pandemic is a long-term battle, and how Taiwan can sustain the health and well-being of its inhabitants within this globalised world without being isolated from the global community is a challenging balance to strike. The research team will further follow up on how the situation develops and affects families in Taiwan with further surveys.