Several weeks ago my wife and I went for a meal in a rather nice restaurant to celebrate a personal milestone.
At the time the lockdown now affecting much of the world had not really come into being. At least not on the scale we are now seeing in much of Europe, across the US, and in other areas affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Life As Normal
As such, I felt quite at home surrounded by other diners out with their loved ones enjoying a nice meal. It was only a few days later, upon hearing of the UK lockdown – ongoing – that I thought back to that meal.
The restaurant had been very busy. Yes, it had a coveted Michelin star, which helps attract many customers, but in the streets around my own restaurant of choice I recall the majority of other eateries being full as I drove home.
A small craft beer bar owned by a friend had people spilling out onto the sidewalk I noted as I drove by; good for business I remember thinking at the time.
The night market near my home had been similarly chockablock. It usually is. Nothing unusual there.
What was perhaps out of place, however, especially given the rush to pick up face masks from pharmacies that started in early February, were how many were not actually wearing them any more.
Restaurant diners must of course remove them to eat.
Those in bars would have a tricky time drinking their beers through a mask, and walking around a night market with a nibble on a stick really wouldn’t work with a mask on either.
Yet as much as Taiwan’s overall ability to fend off the COVID-19 virus far better than other nations has worked to date, are standards starting to slip?
Is complacency taking over.
There are certainly more and more people appearing on the streets without a mask – of any sort.
That masks are more readily available in Taiwan is of course a blessing. So much so, that production rates now at or near 13 million each week is enough to allow huge overseas donations by the government to friends in far places.
Do & Did They Work?
The jury is out in the minds of some on the effectiveness early on in donning masks as being the main cause behind the relatively low numbers of those now infected by the virus in Taiwan.
Most, however, see the early promotion and use of this simple countermeasure as a major factor in being able to live as normal a life as is possible, especially when compared to other countries.
But even that is starting to change.
Is Social Distancing Next?
Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said last Wednesday that social distancing needs to be introduced.
The concept is already well known elsewhere. But refer back to my first few paragraphs and you will see a few short weeks ago that was just not the case here in Taiwan.
It still isn’t.
The weekend of the 28th and 29th of March saw parks thronged with people all over Taipei. Popular shopping areas were still busy, and almost everywhere I went over that weekend appeared ‘normal’.
We are now recommended to stay 1.5 metres away from others when indoors. Masks are recommended by the CECC when this is impossible – such as during the rush hour on MRT trains.
But nothing concrete is being done – at least not ‘obviously’ so.
Many events at which large crowds would potentially gather were cancelled weeks ago, before CECC rules on social distancing, and primarily by the organisers.
Yet still people, albeit in smaller numbers’ get up close and personal in restaurants, nightclubs and across public transportation networks.
The effects of this behaviour on possible asymptomatic transmissions of the COVID-19 virus have yet to be felt, and hopefully we will never see large clusters of community transmissions take hold.
Yet, in recent news reports, we are led to believe that a second-phase of social distancing is coming soon, that regardless of the use of masks, social distancing will apply to each and every one of us.
Get The Public Fully On Board
The only snag is the timing. The CECC have not yet announced when the second stage of social distancing is to be introduced. We do know it will bring with it a complete ban on all non-essential activities, but for now we just sit and wait.
In the meantime the first stage of social distancing seems almost voluntary, and can seemingly be ignored at will.
The government needs to make its mind up on how and when these policies are to be brought in, and fast.
The rules to be followed, and penalties for ignoring rules need to be laid down.
A public fully informed and aware of what lies ahead will work with the government as we all try together to win this battle against an unseen foe.
A public left to its own devices with rules followed by some, ignored by others, will start to pull in different directions.