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Taiwan's COVID-19 Enforcement Success Includes Quarantine Hotels, Musical Trash Trucks

Customers wear face masks inside a store on Dec. 2, 2020, in Taipei, Taiwan. Taiwan imposed mandatory mask-wearing regulations in some circumstances, including on transport services and in markets and restaurants, as it tries to keep its record of controlling COVID-19 infections in check. (An Rong Xu/Getty Images)
Customers wear face masks inside a store on Dec. 2, 2020, in Taipei, Taiwan. Taiwan imposed mandatory mask-wearing regulations in some circumstances, including on transport services and in markets and restaurants, as it tries to keep its record of controlling COVID-19 infections in check. (An Rong Xu/Getty Images)

Taiwan has had remarkable success staving off the coronavirus pandemic.

About 24 million people live on the island, but just seven people have reportedly died from COVID-19. That’s in part because the country essentially sealed itself off from the outside world.

KPCC reporter Josie Huang traveled there from Los Angeles to visit family and is now more than halfway through her “strict” 14-day quarantine. She says she has not been allowed to leave her room at a special quarantine hotel in Taipei.

The hotel — one of more than 130 hotels in the country’s quarantine program — provided her with everything she might need for her stay, including food, laundry detergent and most importantly, a thermometer.

“What I do every day now is I take my temperature twice a day and I have to report it to the hotel,” she says. “So they’re definitely not playing around.”

All travelers, including Taiwanese citizens, must quarantine upon arrival in the country, she says.

Huang’s experience in the country vastly differs from what she saw in LA, which is currently one of the worst epicenters for COVID-19 in the U.S.

“It’s been very surreal reading about all the hurt and suffering in LA while I’m in this country where COVID is under control,” she says. “I really feel like I’m in another dimension.”

Interview Highlights

On what she has observed in Taipei

“You see people wearing masks everywhere. But outside of that, I’d say life is pretty unchanged since the pandemic. When I was in my cab going from the airport, I remember seeing people eating inside restaurants. I saw kids being dropped off at school. People were going to work in office buildings. And a big reason why COVID is being contained here is that there are very tight entry restrictions.”

On the protocols at the airport

“I should mention, even before I could board the plane to Taiwan, I had to present a negative COVID test. And after I landed in Taiwan, and was walking to immigration, I was intercepted by airport workers who ask if you have a cell phone. Now, I do have my cell phone, but I don’t get service in Taiwan. So I was told I needed to buy a SIM card. This is so they can location-track me to make sure I’m sticking to quarantine and there [are] fines of up to $35,000 U.S. if you violate quarantine. And they will come looking for you. So I definitely wanted to get my SIM card thing squared away and then I was able to make it through immigration. I found a cab. And, this is very memorable. The driver sanitized me and my luggage by spraying us with an alcohol mix and then he let me get into his car. It was a cool mist.”

On how Taiwan’s government is keeping tabs on her during quarantine

“So I’ve also got a couple of phone calls from people asking how I was doing. And I was really struck by my last call where the woman who called me, she asked me how my mental health was. And I told her, I can’t say I’m loving quarantine. But then she added, it’s all about looking out for each other and that they — which I presume is the government — cares about me. So there’s this real team spirit thing in Taiwan that I’ve noticed.

“And I should mention that even the trash trucks are part of this. Since the pandemic, the trucks also play a recorded message about COVID. And I was able to make a recording because there’s this trash truck that stops beneath my hotel window almost every day. [You hear] a reminder to socially distance. Also, to wear a mask in public spaces and to wash your hands with soap. There’s also a mention of a hotline you can call if you’re having any of the symptoms.”

On how she’s feeling about the stark differences in COVID-19 between Taiwan and Los Angeles

“It’s made me really sad, actually. … You know, quarantine is keeping me from seeing my family in Taiwan. And that’s been hard. But I understand the reasoning behind it, because if Taiwan wants to spare its citizens the pain of what’s happening with the pandemic in the U.S., I support that. So, I respect the quarantine.”


Ashley Locke produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku Ray. Locke also adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.