Andy Kang-I Chen: Taiwan can help and needs Canada’s help

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      By Andy Kang-I Chen

      More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, discussions and reflections have been made on the best approaches to health management under globalization when a spreading disease could harm not only the local population, but could also impact people and distort economies all over the globe.

      Despite the incredible speed of the development and approval of effective and safe vaccines, the emergence of worrying coronavirus variants means that a globally coordinated public health effort is crucial for defeating the pandemic.

      Taiwan has contained COVID-19 ever since the beginning of the pandemic, including a record 253 days without any cases of domestic transmission between April and December 2020. Taiwan has also mitigated the economic impact of COVID-19, thanks to its robust health system, rigorous testing strategies, information transparency, and public-private partnerships. Taiwan’s ability to avoid lockdowns and other restrictions during the pandemic has safeguarded the country from the worst of the economic pain experienced elsewhere.

      Despite its success story, Taiwan is now racing to contain its worst outbreak in the pandemic by ordering soft lockdowns and limiting social gatherings. Over the past week Taiwan has reported more than 1,250 domestic cases, taking its pandemic totals to 2,533 positive cases and 14 deceased in a population of 23.7 million.

      As mass vaccination gives hope for a return to normal in many countries, the pathogen is still thriving in most countries around the world. Needless to say, a united fight against the pandemic is crucial for containing the virus.

      “For all our differences, we are one human race sharing the same planet and our security is interdependent—no country will be safe, until we’re all safe”, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), while addressing the Aspen Security Forum last year.

      However, despite his explicit statement and various countries’ calls for Taiwan’s inclusion, once again this year, Taiwan has been denied participation in the annual World Health Assembly (WHA), the WHO’s decision-making body. Due to interference from China, which wants to deny Taiwan any international recognition, Taiwan has not participated in the WHA as an observer since 2017.

      It is unacceptable that 23.7 million people of Taiwan are blocked out in this way. All nations, regions, and territories should be part of the WHO network. Any exclusion would only jeopardize global efforts and endanger public health.

      It’s time to call for this to change.

      Taiwan warned very early about the looming threat and is willing to share its experience in managing COVID-19. This pandemic has proven that Taiwan can play an indispensable role in the global monitoring and early warning systems that detect, respond to, and control outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases.

      Much like in the U.S., Japan, and other countries, there is a broad, cross-party support in Canada for Taiwan’s observer status at the WHA.

      Yes, Canada can help facilitate Taiwan’s contributions in the post-pandemic era by leveraging its positions in international communities to help secure Taiwan’s place in the global health network.

      Andy Kang-I Chen is director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Vancouver. The World Health Assembly’s annual meeting is in Geneva and begins on May 24.