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Government and the public pitch in to combat coronavirus threat

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Premier Su Tseng-chang on Thursday expressed thanks for the unified efforts of both the central and local governments that have made Taiwan a case study in fighting COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus first seen in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The premier emphasized the need for solidarity and cooperation to combat the increasingly serious outbreak, and called on all levels of government to continue working hand in hand.

The premier's remarks came at the weekly meeting of the Cabinet following an update from the Ministry of Health and Welfare on the current situation and the government's response, as well as a presentation by the Ministry of Labor (MOL) on measures to stabilize employment.

Nearly 80 countries have reported COVID-19 cases as the virus spreads rapidly across the globe, and U.S. Department of Defense officials recently voiced expectations that the disease will likely become a global pandemic within the next 30 days. Premier Su said that Taiwan's ongoing efforts to control the outbreak have demonstrated not only the nation's considerable strengths but also the quality of its people.

Despite Taiwan's exclusion from the World Health Organization and lack of direct access to information on COVID-19's spread internationally, the country has nevertheless successfully mounted a self-sufficient campaign against the disease, said the premier. This includes the swift move to screen incoming airline passengers to block infection from abroad, and the decision a month and a half ago to ban exports of face masks and centralize their sourcing and distribution. Taiwan has also coordinated the sale of masks for a set price through designated pharmacies nationwide, and adjusted the number available for purchase as manufacturing capacity has ramped up with the addition of production lines over the past month.

In early February, U.S. medical experts had predicted that Taiwan would be the country hit second hardest by the coronavirus, Premier Su pointed out. Just one month later, however, a paper published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association lauded Taiwan for being quick to recognize the crisis and activating emergency management structures early on in the outbreak. The government employed big data analytics and new technology to aid case identification, and reassured citizens by delivering timely, accurate information in the form of daily briefings to the public. "Taiwan is an example of how a society can respond quickly to a crisis and protect the interests of its citizens," the paper concluded.

Regarding job market stability, the first order of priority is to stabilize labor-management relations and keep companies from shuttering stores and triggering mass layoffs. Second, should workers' livelihoods be hurt, the government must immediately provide a full range of assistance to help people maintain a normal life for their families, the premier said.

The MOL will set aside about NT$4.1 billion (US$136.5 million) from the Employment Stabilization Fund and the Employment Insurance Fund combined to help workers facing unemployment and reductions in hours, as well as companies and small-business owners affected by the virus scare. The ministry's short, medium and long-term response measures include offering training allowances under a "recharge and restart" program, providing subsidies to make up for lost income, expanding applicant eligibility for business loans, and extending business loan repayment periods.

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