As China Fights Second Wave, Taiwan Starts Stockpiling Again
Taiwan Is Already Preparing for the Next Pandemic
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Taiwan, one of the few places that’s effectively contained a coronavirus outbreak, is already stockpiling supplies for the next pandemic.
The reserves will include energy, food and daily provisions, medical supplies like surgical masks, personal protective equipment and ventilators, Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Lin Chuan-neng said in an interview. The government will review current inventories and adjust as needed; it will also invest in domestic production of critical goods.
“One lesson Taiwan learned from fighting against Covid-19 is that the government must have sufficient supplies of needed goods for the public,” Lin said. “We need to have plans for that to prepare in advance.”
Due to pressure from China, Taiwan is excluded from the World Health Organization and other global bodies that have focused on the pandemic. As a result, it had to fend for itself, offering valuable lessons for countries that would aspire to do the same. Since it reported its first case on Jan. 21, the island of 24 million has registered fewer than 500 infections and just seven deaths -- without closing schools or otherwise shutting down the economy.
Taiwan’s success is especially remarkable given its proximity and close ties to China, where officials have been playing whack-a-mole with domestic hot spots since the outbreak took hold in Wuhan in January. The government locked down seven residential areas in Beijing this week after the resurgent outbreak in the city grew to more than 100 reported cases.
Officials credit part of Taiwan’s success to its early decision to stockpile and distribute face masks. Starting in January, the government expropriated all domestically produced face masks and banned further export. Soldiers joined production lines and the government paid for additional equipment. Within four months, companies increased production from 2 million to 20 million units per day, enabling the island to ration and distribute masks to residents on a regular basis.
“We will use the experience of storing face masks to build up supply chains of other necessities,” Lin said. “Government will take a more active role in building up stockpiles of strategic goods to stabilize supplies and market prices.”
For some domestic companies, the pandemic has already been a windfall. Shares of Apex Medical Corp, which makes ventilators, are near a four-year high. Shares of mask suppliers KNH Enterprise Co. and Universal Incorporation extended their rise after Taiwan lifted its monthslong ban on mask exports in June.
Stores of flour, soybean oil, canned food, instant noodles and toilet paper will be increased from the current supply, which the Ministry of Economic Affairs estimates would last one to three months. The current 90-day reserve of oil is sufficient, but state-backed CPC Corporation may be called on to increase imports of natural gas. Other agencies will be studying their reserves and getting ready to acquire more.
In her inaugural address, President Tsai Ing-wen said this initiative would be one of Taiwan’s six economic priorities. Over the next four years, she said, the island will establish “strategic stockpile industries that can ensure the steady provision of critical supplies.”
Doctors, epidemiologists and virologists have warned that pandemics like Covid-19 are likely to become more common in the future. An estimated 650,000 to 840,000 animal diseases have the capacity to infect and sicken humans, which is how experts think the coronavirus first took hold.
Taiwan’s stockpiling initiative will also support the island in the event of a natural disaster, which, like pandemics, are expected to become more frequent.
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