What you need to know
The way Japan and Taiwan manage their quarantine on arrival systems is marked by difference.
Although there has been a spike of domestic Covid-19 cases in Taiwan recently, these cases remain relatively low compared to the rest of the world. Many wonder why Taiwan has held out for well over a year and a half before its sudden increase in domestic cases. Its secret could be its effective quarantine process.
Having recently travelled to Japan, I saw a clear difference in approaches to home quarantine between the two countries. To enter Japan, all passengers including Japanese citizens have to present a Covid-19 negative PCR test result, the bare minimum currently required in most countries. Upon landing, a quarantine officer boards the plane before any passengers can disembark. But this has little effect on detecting Covid-19 cases and is merely a routine formality to reassure those arriving that the government is taking the pandemic seriously.
Once passengers deplane, they are first taken to a negative testing/screening point. They are asked to show the test results and receive saliva-based antigen and antibody tests. After this, passengers are repeatedly taken to similar checkpoints, with airport workers asking for the same documentation before handing out flyers depicting home quarantine guidelines and the smartphone applications to install.
After an hour and half long process of endless checks, the arriving passengers are directed to a waiting area to wait for the test results. If the results are negative, they are clear to enter immigration and the baggage claim area before proceeding through customs. But they are free to go anywhere they want as soon as they leave customs. There are no mechanisms in place to ensure that the passenger honors his pledge to not take public transportation, leaving the government to rely solely on trust.
On the other hand, Taiwan’s entry process was comparably speedy, taking less than a half hour from deplaning to taking the required quarantine taxi ride home or to the designated quarantine hotel.
Like Japan, Taiwan requires a negative PCR test result to be presented at check-in and at the first quarantine checkpoint after setting foot on the airport. This is then followed by an automatic temperature checkpoint before immigration. The passenger is detained only if their temperature exceeds certain levels that may indicate Covid-19 symptoms. Otherwise, passengers are allowed to swiftly go through baggage claim.
But in contrast to Japan, once passengers clear customs, quarantine officers immediately escort them to either their designated vehicle or a quarantine taxi. This is to ensure that they are not in close physical proximity with anyone nearby, apart from airport workers, drivers, and quarantine officers. Through stringent training requirements, the quarantine taxi driver heavily masks and is required to install a protective cover dividing the front and backseat where the incoming passenger sits and entering an isolated entrance upon arrival of the passenger’s quarantine residence. From this point onwards, the 14-day quarantine commences.
A major difference between home quarantines in Japan and Taiwan is the presence of penalties. Taiwan employs hefty fines with a maximum of up to NT$1 million (US$36,000) for violations from leaving quarantine space during the 14-day period. Japan, on the other hand, officially publicizes that they will release names of those who violate quarantine guidelines to discourage and shame, while stopping short of any financial penalty or legal implications.
Both countries send out daily electronic confirmation requests asking about potential Covid-19 symptoms of fever, cold, body pains, breathing difficulties, or loss of smell or taste. Japan only gives the individual Skype calls when the confirmation request goes unanswered for over three hours. Taiwan, however, asks its local community/ward office to personally make daily check-up calls. This provides an opportunity for the individual to express any concerns and ask questions. It also serves as a way to connect with their local constituents, not to mention the generous care kit provided on day one of quarantine along with help in disposing of wet garbage. The care kit varies by municipality, while most come with 14 masks, staple food, a booklet of how to properly wear masks and seek medical help, and designated garbage bags. On the other hand, community officials have mentioned that daily calls provide them with an opportunity to better grasp current conditions and understand the needs of those under quarantine as well as gaining insights on the different pandemic approaches taken by governments abroad.
However, some argue that such calls and delivery work from care packages, food, other supplies to collecting waste overburden the already overwhelmed local offices. Despite the hospitable nature, community officials are obliged to make numerous calls over weekends to those under quarantine in their respective jurisdictions. This could become increasingly severe, given their increased workload with the rise in domestic cases in recent weeks.
Yet another difference is the voluntary nature of Japan’s home quarantine. Although each passenger is required to sign a declaration honoring the terms of home quarantine, the government has yet to implement a tracking system of violators. Violations currently go unpunished nor result in an unclean criminal record. Another aspect is that Japan home quarantine is merely a request, as those under quarantine are still permitted to leave their homes or designated quarantine spaces in the name of “necessary errands.” This broad interpretation can include buying groceries, attending work functions, visiting relatives, and other things that can be subjectively seen as a necessity. The sole explicit ask from the government is to steer clear of taking public transportation. Part of this more lenient approach is from human rights concerns where hefty penalties will result in public bashing and further hurt Japan’s vulnerable minorities. The risk however lies with another minority, those without Japanese nationality, as violators could be deported while Japanese citizens are free to roam about.
As the recent rise in domestic Covid-19 cases in Taiwan appear to be plateauing, a continued effective approach to home quarantine could be the key factor in keeping the pandemic under control. The recent spike itself is largely credited to loopholes in its quarantine with the three day shortened quarantine time of pilots at Taiwan’s national flag carrier China Airlines. Perhaps one aspect that could be applied from Japan’s loose approach is its retesting of every passenger upon arrival at the port of entry. The hospitable approach in promoting Taiwan’s soft power with daily calls and deliveries is something the country can be proud of.
As much as Taiwan is lauded as a Covid-19 success story, whether it can weather this storm may depend on how it revises and adjusts its quarantine approach and contract tracing from airline staff to migrant workers while mobilizing a vaccination task force.
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TNL Editor: Bryan Chou, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)
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