Thursday, July 1, 2021

An Open Thank You Letter to the Taiwan CDC


Something about this scene just makes me think of "home in Taiwan" even though my place looks nothing like this.

There have been a lot of complaints about the new quarantine regulations announced for returnees to Taiwan. Essentially, families cannot quarantine together -- one child per parent -- and home quarantine is no longer allowed. Government facilities are available for NT$2000/night (the hotel options are nicer, but more expensive). There have been reports of hotels quoting inflated rates, but that's an issue for law enforcement -- it's a scam, not government policy. The government facilities are plain, but livable. 

A lot of people are unhappy about this, especially those with children who were planning to travel this summer. 

The thing is, family quarantine hasn't been much of an option for awhile -- "one person per residence" has been the rule for months, although there were exceptions if you had your own rooms with bathrooms (how many families have one bathroom for every member?) and minors. 

I understand the frustration: I haven't seen my 95-year-old Grandma since 2018. I was always aiming for the holidays, but any chance of an earlier visit is now shattered. Not all travel is a choice: emergencies happen. And, of course, some people had already left to travel thinking that they could quarantine at home upon their return. This does make their lives more difficult, and I sympathize. It's tough, and we're all stressed. 

That said, most travel is a choice. I miss the country of my birth too -- well, some of the food and people in it anyway. But ultimately most travel plans are optional, and can be canceled. The convenience of people who chose to travel does not trump the good of the country.

The people who created these new rules are medical specialists with more expertise in how to contain something as scarily transmissible as the Delta variant. It's an inconvenience and a cost burden to quarantine away from home, but do people really believe they are better qualified to decide if home quarantine is safe in light of the Delta variant's spread than actual epidemiologists? 

I'm also a bit distraught that people are buying into the idea that Taiwan was late to acquire vaccines. As far as I'm aware, negotiations started as early as possible: the "lateness" was more due to what companies like Moderna and AZ could provide and when, which was influenced by a global vaccine shortage. And, of course, we all know how China created the BioNTech drama.

They -- mostly foreign residents, from my observation -- are  upset that life in Taiwan is not as normal as it has been for the past 16 months, and are turning on the government that gave them those months of normalcy because things have changed.

I do not care for this: when I feel the Taiwanese government is being unfair to foreign residents -- be they blue-collar workers or well-off expatriates -- I'll speak up. But I just don't think that's true here: the good of the country takes precedence over our own convenience.  The government is not perfect, but they are not being unfair.

Perhaps the government facilities should be free for all, but then again, why should they be? Most travel is a choice. 

A reimbursement program for true emergencies would be a kindness, but there is no reason why the government should pay for quarantine after travel one chose to do. Offering rooms with facilities for very young children would be smart; some kids need cribs, and not all families can afford the pricier hotel options. However, it would be reasonable to suggest this without writing entire "complaint" letters. 

In other words, the Delta variant does not care if you would prefer to quarantine together, or at home.

Although I am still distraught that the central government did not do enough to stop the racist treatment of foreign blue-collar workers, I think overall they've been working diligently since the beginning of 2020 to keep Taiwan as safe as possible.

As a result, I feel safer here than I would in the US (yes, still), and I notice that Taiwan is still continuing strict measures despite having fewer per capita cases than countries which are opening up (and probably shouldn't be). Yes, there was an outbreak because some people didn't follow the rules, but Taiwan contained it faster than just about any other country could. 

So rather than complain to the CDC, I wanted to thank them, while reminding them that blue-collar foreign workers still need to have their human rights protected more decisively. 

Of course everyone is free to voice their own opinion, and if you're one of the unhappy people, my "thank you" letter doesn't take away from your ability to write a complaint. I don't agree -- in fact I think it has the potential to cast the foreign community in a bad light as most of us are comparatively well-off, or at least have the resources to consider traveling at all. But it's still everyone's right to write whatever they want. I, personally, chose a "thanks". I can only hope others will do so, as well. 

Or, if you do have a suggestion, to write them a thank you for all those months of keeping you safe, and then add it in: better children's facilities. Emergency travel payment exemptions. Whatever you want. But complaining? I do not encourage that.

This is the letter I wrote. You can write your own here.


First, I just wanted to thank the CDC for working hard to keep Taiwan safe. I know you are getting a lot of complaints right now, but I understand what you're doing and why it's necessary and I am grateful that the outbreak is being contained in Taiwan due to your hard work. I feel safer in Taiwan than I would in the country of my birth thanks to Taiwan's excellent response, even though times are hard now.

However, I do want to suggest that the central government should do more to stop the racism against Southeast Asian blue-collar workers. I've heard that Miaoli County hasn't actually stopped the restrictions, just relaxed them to let workers out for 45 minutes a day, and some companies are still locking them up like slaves or animals. It's not right. Since the CDC was able to revoke other local orders when they didn't comply with CDC regulations, I think you could do more to stop this. It is wrong and blatantly racist, and it really looks bad for Taiwan's human rights record. Clearly, you have the ability to stop it, so you should.

In fact, foreign blue-collar workers should be prioritized for vaccines, as their living and working conditions create danger of an outbreak, and they do mix with Taiwanese as well. I know this is politically difficult to do (probably a lot of Taiwanese would complain about them getting priority), but it's the right thing to do. At the very least, the blatant racism has got to be stopped. If local governments won't do it, the central government should take a stronger stand.

Thanks again for your hard work and for managing the pandemic well for over a year. Taiwan did a lot better than most other countries due to your efforts and they have not gone unnoticed.

I hope others will follow my lead and put the good of the country first. If this is our home -- not a playground where we get all our desires met -- we should act like it. 


David Rowswell said...

Jenna, I disagree with you on one point. In my experience, all the foreigners that I've interacted with are grateful for the efforts of the CDC and Taiwan government in restricting the spread of Covid. Most of us understand that we need to make some small sacrifices for the greater good. Sure there will be some people that take a selfish stance, but I think they are a very small minority. (In my experience anyway).

Jenna Cody said...

It's definitely not all foreigners who are doing this, but I am referencing a very specific letter-writing campaign to "complain to the CDC" to restore home quarantine. I don't know if they're a minority but they are very loud. It's their right to take whatever stance they want -- I can't stop them from complaining and wouldn't want to if I could, that's what free speech is -- but they definitely exist. You might not be in the same social media groups or circles as they are, so perhaps you don't see it.

If it were just a few complainers here or there I wouldn't have written this, but it's a concerted effort, so I think a pushback to *thank* the CDC is worthwhile.

qiao li pi said...

I totally agree to this "Open Thank You Letter" of yours, for I myself is so grateful and thankful to Taiwan Government for their efforts in handling and containing the virus upon entering to the country. Thank you also Taiwan for making each people and those people you cuddled even if they are from other countries to be safe and protected to the virus. And thank you also Taiwanese for being a law abiding people and cooperating what the government rules. To all frontliners who sacrifice themselves for our safety, thank you . My salute and respect to each of you. Yes, taiwan may impossing more strict rules for this pandemic surge but its for our owm safety.
Regarding to the issue of restricting other blue-collar jobs in going outside,I see no bad intentions or what so ever on that matter. I think they are just aiming our safety rather than what other think that it is a discrimination. This is just my take on this issue as one of the blue-collar jobs here in taiwan. As a workers or a responsible workers here in taiwan, you know that the country is facing a surge of pandemic at this days its is our obligations and just a little bit contributions and a small sacrifices to reduce the burden of the their governments efforts for us to be free for this virus. We have also to think and responsible enough not only for ourselves but for everybody's concern. The government are doing their best to end this pandemic as quick as it might be but they need also our cooperation. Each and everyone's cooperation is badly needed(its either your a taiwanese, a migrant, a white-collar jobs or, a blue-collar jobs) it doesnt matter at all for each and everyone of us are affected of this pandemic. Yes its true that there are dormitories that restricting there tenants not to go outside specially if there are positive cases near their areas and i don't see any wrong or discrimination with that. All they ask is a month or two in order to contain the virus and prevent it in spreading. I think complaining is not helpful at this time rather than cooperation to end this pandemic.
May I address also to companies, employers and brokers to equipped their facilities and provides the workers what they need like enough food supply or groceries. Give them also a clean, breathable and liveable space to stay. This pandemic not only affected us socially and emotionally but more on mentally. So, may I suggest also to all leaders and bosses not to put to much pressure to their employees by yelling, shouting or blogging things in front of them rather than have a happy, harmonous and good working relationship towards each other. We are all stressed of this pandemic so we help each other to at least distressed by having a good working experience and environment.
All that I wrote here are all my opinions based of what I saw in the surroundings where I'm at, and based also of what I've observed and experienced. Allow me also to give credits to my company and my dormitory for the efforts for keeping us safe although there are flaws but i know you are doing your best. Thank you so so much

Jenna Cody said...

No, I'm sorry, but it is racism. You are wrong about that. The Taiwanese people in the same factories are not locked in, only the Southeast Asians, so they're basing it on national origin, not risk of disease. And it's a lack of basic human rights, to be locked in like that, for no medical reason, not a "small sacrifice". Human rights groups in Taiwan agree -- it is racism, period.

Pierre said...


I am the father of a 3 year old. Since May 18th, schools have been closed, and she has been staying with us all day, every day.

At the same time, we have been asked to keep working as if nothing happened. The government graciously offered us to take... unpaid leave.

So right now, parents everywhere in Taiwan are having to juggle with two responsibilities at the same time: taking care of their children and being a productive member of society for the companies that pay their salaries.

Basically, it means having to work two days in one.

And that has been going on for seven weeks now, with no end to that (the government has been extending level 3 restrictions since May 18th). Meanwhile, the government has never enforced anything to prevent bosses from forcing their employees to go physically to work, even when said employees could do remote work. And now, it is talking about re-opening night markets and restaurants... but no schools?!

Some families can count on the grandparents to take care of the children during the day (although it is entirely the opposite of what should be done, since the point of this fake lockdown is to prevent people from being contaminated, and therefore grandparents should be interacting with as little people as possible...), but a lot cannot, and that include of course foreigners (but not only, although that might explain why they are being more vocal about it).

But even so, it looks like more and more parents are getting fatigued, and this is starting to be concerning, as stated by Focus Taiwan:

This is not news, of course, it has been happening everywhere else for the last 16 months. Maybe the government could have taken note.

I hope you understand better why some people complain.

If you want, you can take care of my daughter for seven weeks, and let us know how it feels in a follow-up to this article ;)

(That said, I love your blog and will keep reading it, it is just that things are getting a bit tiring now, and parents are starting to burn out)


Jenna Cody said...

I can understand that all of that is difficult. Of course the rest of the world had to live through it too, for far longer than you will probably have to. But still, I understand, it's hard. Although we don't have kids, Level 3 has hit us hard as well. I'm basically the sole breadwinner at the moment, and although my husband is nicer about it, I think the company he's been loyal to for a decade is treating him far too diffidently, though I understand they're in tough circumstances too.

However, please ask yourself: do you really think it's safe to re-open schools right now? (I don't have an answer to that, it's an open-ended question). I can understand thinking markets etc. should remain closed but that has no bearing on whether schools should be open or not. So what is your goal? To lower Level 3 and open everything and risk an outbreak with a low vaccination rate and the Delta variant here, or a few weeks of Level 4 -- a total gamble that might or might not work?

And what do you think writing complaints to the CDC will do about it? Is that helpful to the country or does it mostly benefit you?

To be clear, I have no issue with people complaining that things are rough. They are. It sucks! But there's this whole letter-writing campaign to basically push the CDC to change quarantine procedure to better accommodate parents who *chose* to travel with their kids during a pandemic (a few of these trips were emergencies, but most seem like they're just regular summer travel). They want the CDC to basically make life easy for them, against the advice of the experts that work there, because they took a gamble on traveling right now and lost. As I see it, that's the risk you take when you travel at times like these.

Complaining is fine, but to me the letter-writing to the CDC because some people don't like the new quarantine rules is really entitled behavior. They're using words like "traumatized" and "justice", which...well I won't get into how I feel about that but let's just say I don't agree.

If people had kept to complaining online and made it about the *situation* (which does admittedly suck) rather than making it the government's problem -- and describing it as though they think their kids will get PTSD from this or something, I wouldn't have even written the post. It wastes the CDC's time to even have to read those emails. I'd commiserate, because it does in fact suck!

Nobody has to write to the CDC to thank them. But for the love of all that is good, I hope people don't write to them to complain that they chose to travel and that risk came back to bite them.

So, I understand why people are complaining.

I do not understand, do not support and actively oppose writing letters to the CDC to try to Karen one's way into different quarantine rules as though the current ones are some sort of human rights violation (they most certainly are not).

Pierre said...

Thanks for your answer.

Yes, I agree that the CDC has done a pretty good job so far and has been as transparent as possible with their daily press conferences (I follow that thanks to Brian Hioe's New Bloom Magazine daily reports, and it is really useful). When you see the clowns they have to work with at local levels, and how much they manage to keep their shit together, it is honestly quite amazing.

I was not aware about the campaign to spam the CDC with complaining letters. Of course, this is completely ludicrous and I don't support this at all (hint: to remain as far away as possible from all this pitch and fork crap, delete your "social" network accounts. I've done that years ago and I could not be happier about it. Blogs are the way!).

To get back to the topic of schools and children, as you've read in the article I pointed to, the problem is a psychological one. Adults are getting pissed, children are losing their minds, and all of these people have to share the same space 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, while the adults are likely to be working at the same time.

The Department of Household Registration provides bi-lingual statistics about the population:

The first document (" Table 1. Population by Sex and 5 Year Age Group for Counties and Cities") tells us there are currently 2,806,089 children aged 1 to 14 in Taiwan. I imagine a vast majority of them are usually going to a form of daycare/pre-school/school, and a vast majority of these children currently have two parents. That means the current level 3 is penalizing most of these 2.8 million children and their 5.6 million parents (total: 8.4 million people, more than a third of Taiwan population).

Schools are very heavily monitored places: it is very easy to know who's coming in and out, and it is therefore very easy to do contact tracing. If there is one case detected in one class, the class, or even the whole school could be shut down for 2 weeks, with chilren and parents put in quarantine (or tested, or other appropriate restrictions). That would impact a much smaller amount of people, for more or less the same result.

Currently, the government agrees on letting wholesale markets open. Sure, people going there are supposed to leave their information for contact tracing, but let's not fool ourselves: A-gongs and a-mas don't give a shit, and nothing is properly enforced (as I've witnessed this morning when cycling by a wet market: a cop was standing there, but I saw three old people going in without scanning the QR code at the entrance). This kind of place is much harder to monitor and control, and can lead to much worse outbreaks (as we have seen just this week in Taipei). Yet, they remain open.

If you are going to (re-)open places, I say: choose wisely.

Jenna Cody said...

I just watch the press conferences when I have time, I understand them fine. If there's a specific thing I didn't catch, I find William Yang's round-up is the best.

Certainly my neighborhood chief is one of the annoying local people they have to deal with, plus all the attention seekers claiming they can buy vaccines that they definitely can't buy, and disinformation from China and their KMT puppets.

But the thing I specifically was trying to address wasn't closed schools, it was people who *chose* to travel and are now pissed that the rules change, as rules do in a pandemic. I get being stressed about that and complaining to friends, and for large families it is expensive, but treating the Taiwan CDC like the local Applebee's where you can Karen your way into free breadsticks if you complain loudly enough is just gross. And some were posting about this campaign to harass the CDC like it was some "social justice" issue -- bullshit. They just wanted to quarantine in their luxury condos or Yangming Mountain houses, and if they couldn't do that, they wanted the government to pay for their quarantine when the government is under no such obligation. That's the risk they took when they chose to travel. Could you imagine if "foreigners are complaining to the CDC about new rules" made it into the local press? We'd all look bad.

In fact, maybe Applebee's isn't the right analogy. They seemed to think the CDC was their own personal travel insurance company, on the hook to cover any risks they may incur by gambling on travel right now.

And as you can see, when the letter-writing got pushback, it morphed into "they're stealing our children" because above all, they don't just want to be able to do anything they want with no risk or inconvenience, they also want attention.

I think I tried to be more sympathetic about it at first, but I feel super done. They're the most privileged foreigners in Taiwan and they are complaining like they're in cages at the US border. (Or were: I don't know if it finally died down when they realized people thought they were being ridiculous).