Tuesday, July 6, 2021

The Taiwan CDC is not going to rip your children from you (obviously)

Because there are still people in the foreign community who believe information that is straight-up wrong regarding new CDC guidelines, I wanted to provide some clarity as a follow up to my last post.

Due to a poorly-worded Focus Taiwan article, a lot of people are asserting that the new quarantine restrictions will require children over age 12 to isolate separately. Some are wording this as "implementing the new rules on taking children from families" when entering the country. You know, to add the maximum amount of fearmongering to this particular bit of disinformation. 

The actual article says this: 

Arrivals from outside the seven high-risk countries will now be required to stay in a quarantine hotel or a government quarantine facility at their own expense for 14 days, and also get a PCR test, the CECC said in a press conference.

The PCR test for them will be free, but Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said the fee for a government quarantine center will be NT$2,000 (US$71.72) per night per person, though children aged 12 and under can stay either with their father or mother in a single room with no extra charge. 

This implies that parents may have to pay for the quarantine of children over age 12, but it says nothing about them being quarantined separately. 

It certainly doesn't imply that the heartless, child-hating CDC dramatically rips your children from your arms at the airport, whisking them to GOD KNOWS WHERE to be quarantined away from you for two entire weeks as you, the heartbroken parent, sob and rend your clothing helplessly as these agents of darkness violate your family. And, to pile offense upon offense, you will be required to pay for this, just as the families of executed political prisoners were charged for bullets in fascist regimes

This is preposterous on its face. Think about it: do you honestly believe the Taiwanese government would require that 13-year-olds quarantine separately from their parents? Is there any evidence beyond one poorly-worded article that there were ever official rules stating this?

(Yes, the article was based on a press release, but the press release doesn't say your children will be taken from you, either.)

Because this is still getting traction, however, someone called 1922 and their answer was a very clear "obviously not". Children 18 and under can quarantine with parents (I don't know if they are required to, or if you'd be allowed to arrange a separate room for your 16-year-old who will probably be just fine without you. I don't think it matters.) 

If you arrive from a "red list" country like the UK, you tell the appropriate CDC worker at the airport who is in your group and what they need -- so if your child has special needs, you will have the opportunity to point this out to the government as well -- and they will arrange the accommodation for you. If you arrive from any other country, you have to make the arrangements yourself. But again, nobody is going to tear your children from you. 

In fact, the rule that adults cannot quarantine together is not new either: they've been expected to isolate separately for months. And yet, people are still saying this rule is "new" and "unfair". It's neither.

In the past this separation could include a home quarantine (there were rules about what sort of housing arrangements were allowed). However, people skirted those rules, and in a few cases violations caused local COVID infections. That's why the only new rule is that all quarantines must be in hotels or government facilities, and arrivals from certain countries with a prevalence of the Delta variant must quarantine at government facilities. 

All anyone ever needed to do to confirm that these "family separation at the border" policies were complete and utter fake news was call 1922. They even speak English. 

So please, if you are still hearing accusations like this, shut it down. If you believe it, stop. If someone insists this is an "official" rule or regulation, inform them that they are not correct. If you are an admin in a social media group where accusations like this are proliferating, end it by warning people about disinformation. 

I am going to give the people spreading this information the benefit of the doubt that they are not intentionally trying to stir up trouble. They read an article that wasn't perfectly clear, made some very wrong conclusions and discussed their worries with others. That amplified their fears and echoed their wrong conclusions back at them, until "children under 12 can stay...at no extra charge" became "they are going to take our children from us at the airport!" 

It is possible to unintentionally spread fake news, or say things in the most incendiary way -- OUR CHILDREN! TORN FROM US! -- without realizing what one is doing. But now that you know, please stop. It amplifies the incorrect information and results in real actions which look bad for the foreign community, such as endlessly contacting the CDC to demand that they accommodate your return the way you would prefer. 

Yes, it is true that if you don't arrive from a "red list" country that you will have to pay for your own quarantine as home quarantine is no longer allowed. That makes sense given the rise of the Delta variant and the impossibility of perfect enforcement. Yes, this does mean that if you chose to travel, you're now likely on the hook if you want to return. However, I urge everyone to consider that in New Zealand, you don't get to choose your quarantine facility, but chances are you have to pay for it regardless. You also have to apply for a place: there's a reason why they have special categories for urgent or time-sensitive requests: not everyone gets a spot quickly

And not every country would allow you to return -- or allow you to leave

Australia maintains a near universal travel ban on all non-citizens coming to the country. And even Australian citizens living abroad don't have an easy time entering. They need to fight for a limited number of plane seats per week to get into the country and must serve a mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine upon arrival. Australians in countries deemed at high-risk for COVID-19 like India, are completely banned from returning home, and face potential prison time if they attempt to circumvent the ban. (In May, Australia launched some repatriation flights to bring select citizens home from India, such as those with medical conditions.)

Australia has also imposed an exit ban that bars most of its citizens from leaving the country. A rightwing think tank called Libertyworks challenged Australia's outbound ban in court, but a federal judge dismissed the case earlier this month.

Compared to that, can you honestly say that Taiwan doesn't sound eminently reasonable, allowing citizens and legal residents to travel and return? Although I would support fee waivers for people undertaking emergency travel, does the overarching policy for Taiwan truly sound unfair in comparison? 

From Focus Taiwan:

Each room will be equipped with internet accessibility, television and other amenities, including three meals per day per person, the CECC said.... 
When questioned why passengers from high-risk countries can enjoy free accommodation, but those from lower-risk countries have to pay for their accommodation, Chen said only that it was compulsory for people arriving from high-risk countries to stay in a government facility, and therefore they should not have to pay, while arrivals from other areas had the option to stay at quarantine hotels, which offer a lot of choice.


I completely understand the frustration or worry over facing a bill you weren't expecting upon return to Taiwan. Obviously some would be concerned about the logistics of such a stay. Of course, it will be difficult, and not everyone has the money. However, it's the right call for the good of the country even if it inconveniences you personally. 

For those who chose non-emergency travel during a pandemic, you took a gamble. You rolled the dice. That was your choice. You lost that bet. I understand it's annoying, but it was your bet to take. Please don't pretend that you have the right to take any gamble you want, without any of the risks. The CDC was never your insurance company against making a bad bet on the travel game right now. 

I have no problem with people venting their frustrations online. Affording the bill, managing children in a single room for two weeks, arranging pet care for the extra time away: these are all legitimate annoyances. 

However, that's not the same as spreading fake news. "They're going to take our children!" crosses a big fat red line.

Allow me to be harsh: a lot of people got used to Taiwan getting an A in pandemic prevention, and are now angry that it's getting perhaps a B, when the rest of the world got a D or F. Now, they think the Taiwanese government is somehow responsible for accommodating their personal travel choices. Some are spreading fear and straight-up fake news, because "I don't want to pay for quarantine thanks to travel I chose to take during a pandemic" is less captivating than "they're going to take our children!

Of course, given the way fake news spreads,  the "they're going to take our children!" angle had legs even after "we shouldn't have to pay for quarantine" and "they should let us quarantine at home" died out. It was more important to be outraged than to just call 1922 and ask.

It needs to stop. Now. It makes the foreign community look bad. It unfairly compares an annoying but eminently reasonable policy with the very real human rights violations that occur in other countries. This is not family separation at the US-Mexico border or asylum seekers to Australia being sent to Nauru or Christmas Island.

Frankly, it's embarrassing. Stop. 

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