Prepare Appropriately for the Moment Without Irrational Fears: Taipei’s Decision to Continue with their New Year’s Eve Celebration

Right when the rest of the world was fighting an uphill battle with COVID-19, the Taipei City
Government made the major decision on the last day of 2020: that Taipei would continue its
New Year’s Eve celebration!

Use Rational Scientific Data to Determine Strategic Method

It was a difficult decision for me to make. There was a great deal of external political pressure,
and I pondered about it all night. Aside from the scientific data and information collection, there
were political risks involved.

This was not a decision as simple as calling a day off due to a typhoon, since the current issue
impacts the health and safety of our citizens. In the same way a doctor makes a diagnosis, we
collected information before making a final decision. The city government took 12 hours to
complete thorough data collection. During the morning assembly that day, I listened to each
department’s presentation and through these collaborations, I made a comprehensive judgment
and decision.

Taiwan is famous for our Information and Communication Technology (ICT), but we do not
have much of a culture surrounding data governance and culture.

To be quite frank, Taiwan is much less digitized than countries such as Estonia. Data is an
important basis for decision-making in governance. When making decisions, we should utilize
this information to the best of our ability. The impact of the global pandemic continues to be
extremely serious. However, there have been no large-scale changes or new evidence of
community infection in Taiwan thus far.

The previous New Zealand aviator case has already passed through the virus observation period.
The latest strain of the virus has been confined to areas beyond Taipei. In other words, the
possibilities of community infection is relatively low.

Everyone is worried about the newest strain of the virus due to the science showing that it has a
higher rate of transmission. However, evidence shows that it will not affect the development of
the vaccine. The current pandemic prevention measures are currently sufficient, and changes are
unnecessary as long as we stay diligent with our prevention measures.

The Taipei City Government put together a team of 64 people to disinfect the area where the
New Year’s Eve celebration was held. They effectively cleaned the venue and restored traffic
within 20 minutes before the end of the New Year’s Eve event.

Adhere to Standard of Operations (SOPs), Impose Stringent Border Control

Taipei’s strategy towards containing COVID-19 is to strictly adhere to our Standard of
Operations (SOPs) and impose tight border controls, including utilizing quarantine hotels and
enforcing home quarantines. We aim to apply rigid border control measures to prevent imported
infections from interfering with domestic anti-pandemic efforts, preventing a potential crisis.
When dancers from the Moscow Classical Ballet troupe tested positive for COVID-19, I insisted
that they cancel their performance as it would prevent the virus from breaking through the first
line of defense. Had it done so, then the Department of Health and the Department of
Environmental Protection would have needed to immediately launch investigations and designate
treatments for infected patients to ensure that the virus was contained. In the past year, I agreed
that there should be no limitations on overtime pay for workers in the Department of Health and
the Department of Environmental Protection. I hope that these two lines of defense will
effectively prevent the spread of the virus.

If these first two lines of defense are broken through, Taipei City Government will initiate
appropriate levels of protective measures depending on the number of people infected. We
created certain benchmarks: if there is a case with an unknown origin, we plan on increasing
protective measures; if there are fifteen local infections or more, mass gatherings will be ceased;
and if the number of infections exceeds to a thousand, a lockdown will be implemented.

What’s Impressive About Taiwan’s Efforts Isn’t That There are Few Cases, but
Rather the Disruption of Society was Kept to a Minimum.

The most successful part of Taiwan’s pandemic prevention measures over the course of the last
few months is not the fact that the case count remained low, but that we allowed society to
continue with minimal disturbances to their daily lives. From the perspective of foreigners, this is
what is the most impressive. As long as we remain diligent in our preventive efforts, events can
continue to be held without interference.

This is the idea of the new normal that we have been emphasizing. If the pandemic continues for
one to two years, we must try to coexist alongside the virus and not let it disrupt our lives too
much.

Since the rise of the pandemic, no private business in Taipei has been forced to close
permanently due to the virus. Our economy has been stable because society is still operating and
as a result, citizens are able to resume their normal lives despite the pandemic.

What I want is for our pandemic prevention policies to allow economic activities to continue
while still being effective. After all, when the government interferes with economic activities, it
is not the white collar workers who are impacted, but rather the working class and their ability to
sustain a living.

For example, Taipei City recently safely organized the “Taipei City Marathon,” demonstrating
the reliability of our SOPs with large gatherings. Based on my professional opinion, the danger is
not the people that wear masks outdoors, but rather those that use indoor dining with everyone
eating and talking.

Truthfully, if we want to put a stop to New Year’s Eve activities, then restaurants and night
markets should have been closed early on. Metro trains are even more densely packed, so should
we stop taking them all together ? I disapprove of these kinds of fear inciting populist politics.
This New Year’s Eve, we emphasized reasonable risk assessment and control in addition to
preventative mechanisms. We asked citizens to comply with the following to decrease risk:
utilizing real name registration, restricting crowd capacity, and sectioning off areas in order to
maintain social distancing.

The digital foundations that Taipei City has developed through TaipeiPASS will be a part of the
contact tracing and efficient disease control efforts.

Taipei’s big data center oversaw and controlled the amount of real-name registration for the New
Year’s Eve countdown event.

Apply Appropriate Preparations, Don’t Be Defeated By Irrational Fear

Governing is forever a balance between ideals and pragmatism, and this is why I oppose
excessive advance preparation. I am an advocate of suitable and appropriate measures as a
solution to minimizing disruptions in society and maximizing economic activity.

According to my knowledge, there are only two nations globally that were able to achieve
positive GDP growth in 2020, with one of them being Taiwan. As the “scientist in politics,” I
heavily relied on realistic data and scientific evidence to reject irrational thoughts.
Special thanks to all the Taipei City Government workers for their arduous efforts. Because of
you, citizens are able to advance into 2021 without being isolated indoors by fear. I am not
bargaining my political career but rather seek to create a professional governmental team that
rationalizes and decides on policies based on scientific data. That is our goal as a team.

At the end of the day, we all still have to move on with our lives. What needs to be done, must be
done. I stand by the phrase of “preparing appropriately without being defeated by irrationality
and fear.” We hope our New Year’s Eve event can become a pillar of blessings and hope for
other countries, as it puts Taiwan on display to the world.

Let us wave goodbye to 2020 and march forth into 2021! (Video)

Wen-Je Ko
Mayor of Taipei City

Doctor at the National Taiwan Hospital.
Chairman of the Department of Traumatology at the National Taiwan University Hospital.
Professor of College of Medicine at the National Taiwan University.
Political avocation falls under the everyday lives of citizens, and will cultivate through time.

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