Premier Su Tseng-chang on Thursday said the Cabinet's policy decisions early on in the COVID-19 outbreak ensured the safety and welfare of the people of Taiwan for the entire year. He encouraged the Cabinet team to continue promoting policies in the new year that will benefit the people's welfare and push Taiwan ahead.
The premier's remarks came at a Cabinet meeting during which he received a briefing on Taiwan's successful response, including disease prevention, financial relief and economic stimulus.
On this day, the last day of 2020, the premier looked back on a critical 33-day period from December 31 of last year to February 2, during which the Cabinet team made important decisions regarding the on-board screening of flights from Wuhan, the ban on exports of medical masks, the linking of National Health Insurance (NHI) cards with immigration records, and other matters. The government's efforts to provide financial relief, spark the economy and boost growth have also brought tangible benefits to the people.
Last December 31, Taiwan was the first nation in the world to begin conducting on-board quarantine inspections of direct flights from Wuhan, before passengers disembarked, the premier elaborated. The nation's borders were also tightened with quarantine inspections and temperature checks. When the country's first COVID-19 case was confirmed January 21, the government announced the very next day that all local tour groups to Wuhan would be halted temporarily.
Also on January 24, the eve of the Lunar New Year, the government announced a ban on the export of medical-grade face masks and requisitioned all such masks manufactured by domestic factories. On January 27, all NHI cards were linked to immigration data to enable frontline medical workers to see patients' travel histories abroad, which allowed for earlier and more accurate identification of high-risk patients and helped prevent transmissions to medical personnel and other hospital patients. Thereafter on February 2 the government announced a two-week postponement of school openings at the high school level and below, to protect children from congregating during the peak of the outbreak.
After initiating pre-disembarkation screening of plane passengers on December 31 last year, Taiwan took the initiative to warn the World Health Organization (WHO) that the atypical pneumonia deserved heightened alert status, a month before the WHO declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. The premier emphasized that if Taiwan had been a WHO member able to publicize such concerns at the outset, then the world may have been spared the worst of the pandemic that has since unfolded.
As for the economic impact of the coronavirus, government relief measures rescued 120,000 businesses from shuttering and saved 1.12 million workers from unemployment. Premier Su cited the most recently released employment figures showing a jobless rate of 3.75 percent in November, an eight-month low. In addition, over 23.32 million people took advantage of Taiwan's one-of-a-kind "triple stimulus" voucher program, which boosted consumer spending and by November had helped push monthly receipts in the retail, wholesale, and restaurant and catering sectors to new year-on-year highs.
2020 has also been a bumper year for investment in Taiwan, the premier said, with both export value and export orders setting repeated records. November marked the 10th consecutive month of growth in industrial and manufacturing production indices, and the rosiest economic outlook for manufacturing production in six years. As a result, Taiwan's GDP growth in the first three quarters combined led Asia's four tiger economies. Taiwan is also the world's only developed economy projected to post positive growth for the full year.
Having already confirmed its first case of the U.K. coronavirus variant, Taiwan is taking action to confront the mounting successive waves of the pandemic, especially at the border. The Central Epidemic Command Center announced Wednesday the decision—effective January 1, 2021—to bar entry to non-resident aliens and temporarily suspend international flight transfers. Comprehensive enhanced testing measures for all visitors are then set to begin on January 15. The premier concluded with a call for increased vigilance, and a collective effort by the people of Taiwan to safeguard the hard-won triumphs and blessings of 2020.