The national face-mask team
Although Taiwan’s machine-tool industry is the world’s third largest by exports, it lacked the necessary designs and components to build the machines. Adopting the mantra “We’re all in this together,” the association immediately gathered a list of the items needed to build the machines and then approached major manufacturers about providing the skilled workers necessary to assemble them. Hsu says that as association chairman he dropped a hint to HIWIN, YCM, Awea Mechantronic, and Goodway Machine, and the machine-tool heavyweights then came through with more than 20 technical personnel and other support.
More used to competing fiercely with one another for orders, the sometime rivals pulled together on this project. Taiwan’s existing makers of face-mask machines had been able to produce only two machines in a month. But under pressure from the gathering pandemic, the group rapidly ramped up production, producing one face-mask machine in the first week, one every three days in the second week, and two per day in the third, completing all 60 within a month.
When Premier Su Tseng-chang called the group the “national face-mask team” during a visit to one of the factories, it fostered pride in their achievements and encouraged still other machine-tool makers to join the effort. Ultimately, some 2500 man-days of work went into the program over the 40 days from February 10 to March 20, producing a total of 92 face-mask machines that were subsequently turned over to mask manufacturers. This endeavor resulted in another “Taiwan miracle”: previously importing 80% of its face masks, Taiwan was by now making 15 million masks per day and had become the world’s second-largest producer.
A prudent approach
Johns Hopkins University predicted in January that given Taiwan’s close proximity to China, it would likely have the second highest number of imported cases in the world. But the reality has been that while Europe and the US have suffered severe outbreaks, Taiwan has been a global bright spot for prevention, with only 400-some confirmed cases and fewer than ten deaths, even without a lockdown.
Taiwan has calmly and vigilantly held the line against the disease from the first. On December 31, 2019, the government began implementing on-board health checks on passengers arriving on direct flights from Wuhan. On January 20, 2020, it activated the Central Epidemic Command Center to directly coordinate preventive measures such as introducing border controls and combating false information.
Outgoing vice president Chen Chien-jen, an epidemiologist by training, has observed that after the SARS outbreak in 2003, Taiwan’s government conducted a comprehensive review of its epidemic response capability before amending the Communicable Disease Control Act to establish a communicable disease prevention command system, strengthen and restructure the Centers for Disease Control, and add infectious disease specialists to the CDC’s staff.
Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung is leading the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) and releases daily updates on the pandemic. By publicizing preventive measures such as wearing a mask, thoroughly washing one’s hands, and maintaining social distance, the center has encouraged the public’s compliance. Private businesses and residential districts have also helped, responding to the government’s efforts to prevent transmission in public spaces by implementing disinfection measures and temperature checks of their own. This collective action has enabled the public to adhere to government recommendations without sacrificing their personal freedom.