Taiwan is living proof that control of an emerging virus can be achieved through science, technology, and democratic governance. It is one of the places that got hit hard by the 2003 SARS epidemic that claimed numerous lives and affected many more, Taiwan learned their lessons in the preparation for the future epidemic. So since the COVID-19 struck till now, the island of Taiwan has never been in a lock-down or taken any serious measure. Now many of you are probably wondering, how did they do it? 

In her talk on Techsauce Virtual Summit 2020, Audrey Tang shares her knowledge, tools, and the key for the unity of Taiwanese society that leads her society through this time of COVID-19.

The Three Main Amplifier of Digital Transformation

In times like the COVID-19 crisis that has brought havoc to the society and economy at large. Even for a small island like Taiwan with digital democracy, the influence of COVID-19 has unquestionably shifted the digital landscape. Audrey broke down the 3 main aspects of digital transformation that COVID-19 has amplified.  

1. Fast

The Taiwanese government was able to take advantage of the online discussion forum they have created called PTT. For instance, back in December when a whistleblower posted online that they suspected a new SARS case. Unlike the PRC government that punished the whistleblower, the Taiwanese medical officers immediately took notice and issued an order in dealing with the flight from Wuhan. Through this platform, they have done two things for the creation of mutual trust between the government and the people. First, society trusts the government to share things on the platform. Secondly, the government trusts society enough to take every post and call seriously. Through a simple technology- a hotline telephone, anyone who has any new ideas to share for the civil society can pick up their phone and call 1922. As a result, this has made trust apparent.

 2. Fair

By enabling the freedom of information, the Taiwanese government has further enhanced the trust with the people of Taiwan. For instance, during the COVID-19, the government made sure that everybody can use their national health insurance card to collect masks from nearby pharmacies. Furthermore, they can see the mask stock level instantly. So if the stock increases after purchase, they can quickly call the hotline to alert any fault in the system. Through this everybody can help to account and co-creation leads to social innovation.

3. Fun

So while fast and fair is good, this method could only reach a part of the population who was already interested in democracy. The real question is how do you reach the part of the people who are not interested in politics? Audrey said, “it has to be fun.” By applying humor within the message from the leader, this has made it engaging for a larger group of audience who uses social media. Even better, the humor memes spread have made it harder for the rumor news to spread. 

In essence, these aspects combined is what Audrey calls “collective intelligence”. By allowing people to voice their thoughts, opinions, and design, everybody became a part of new social innovation that if they go viral, it makes society better.

Learning from the Past to Deal with the Current

Within weeks of hearing that something like SARS was happening again, the government made a swift action to be ready for it. Despite the lack of information and confirmation, they took two main lessons from their experience with SARS back in 2003.

  1. The need for a Central Epidemic Command Center, or CECC: Centralized source that is the official source to create consistency in listening and communication
  2. The need for border patrol: Setting up border inspection early and quickly

Audrey made it clear that what the government was doing was the advance requirements, proactive and not reactive. So, they made the initiative to quarantine the people returning from a high-risk area for 14 days within a hotel, and for those who prefer to stay home will opt-in for tracking that alerts the local police or house manager if there is any sign of leaving the property. As a result of contact tracing at the very early stages, people suffered for 14 days of no freedom of movement and limited freedom of privacy. But in turns, by the 15th day, these people became normal citizens. 

Contrary to the city of Wuhan that declared a lockdown, the Taiwanese government relies on the social sector. In short, people who have good ideas were able to amplify their ideas but the controllership is still in civil society, whereas in many jurisdictions people accepted that they have to concentrate all the data to the surveillance state, and so whether you empower more, making citizens transparent to the state, that leads to more concentration. 

Keeping an Open Ears for All Experts

According to Audrey, another factor that sets Taiwan apart in dealing with COVID-19 is that they took in advice, suggestion, and analysis from both medical and digital experts. Through the combination of the three ministers Chen, Taiwan was able to implement an evidence-based policy that works for both digital and public health. 

  1. Dr. Chen Chien Jen, the former vice president, besides from being a vice president at the time, he was also a top epidemiologist. Thus, people listened to him because he has both political and scientific authority. 
  2. The commander Chen of the ministry of health and welfare. Despite his superficial understanding of epidemiology and digital epidemiology, he listens to ideas from civil society and shares them in the daily press conference. 
  3. The chief cybersecurity information officer and vice premier, Dr.Chen Chi Mai, who was an expert in both the computational and public health.

Audrey’s 3 Suggestions for Other Countries

If your good idea goes viral then the coronavirus will not go viral.

In her role, Audrey has made tremendous contributions to the fight against COVID. But she has three major recommendations to other countries:

  • Don’t Panic: There is no need to panic, when people understand that we are in this together, that is when we can learn together and find ways to fix the problem. Thus, the importance of reaching a broad consensus among the citizen and the government is the key.
  • Mobilize the society: Despite technologies playing a huge role in COVID-19, we need to remember that the key to preventing the outbreak lies in wearing a mask and washing your hand. 
  • Amplify the good idea: Emphasizing the message of covering one’s mouth and nose when sneezing. 

Taiwan’s Approach to Privacy and Health Security

According to Audrey, here are the key factor in remaining the trust between the Taiwanese government and its people:

  1. Minimize data collection: Only collecting data that they absolutely need is the leading factor that the Taiwanese government stands by. By taking data based on mobile phones and the signal that cell towers already collect, they are able to use these data without violating the rights of their people. 
  2. Confidence in the doctor: People going to the doctor need to know that their doctor is still working in their best interest.

For more information about Techsauce Virtual Summit 2020: https://virtualsummit.techsauce.co/

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