Authored by Wired
AS OF WEDNESDAY, the nation of Taiwan had recorded 100 cases of Covid-19, a remarkably low number given the island’s proximity to China. Some 2.71 million mainland Chinese visited Taiwan in 2019, and as recently as January there were a dozen round trip flights between Wuhan and Taipei every week. But despite its obvious vulnerabilities, Taiwan has managed, so far, to keep well ahead of the infectious curve through a combination of early response, pervasive screening, contact tracing, comprehensive testing, and the adroit use of technology.
As millions of citizens in the US shelter in place while girding themselves for the double whammy of an accelerating outbreak and a vicious economic recession, it is natural enough to look at Taiwan’s example and wonder why we didn’t do what they did, or, more pertinently, could we have done what they did? But a common theme in the recent press coverage of Taiwan’s (and Singapore’s) efforts to contain Covid-19 has included a consistent cautionary note. With particular attention to the technologically intrusive surveillance-state aspects of Taiwan’s response—notably, its real-time integration of national health care databases with customs and travel records and its use of government-issued cell phones to remotely monitor quarantine orders—we keep seeing the culturally embedded assumption that East Asian-style state social control just won’t fly in the good old, individualist, government-wary, freedom-loving United States.