How Taiwan’s poor communes defeated the Delta strain

How Taiwan's poor communes defeated the Delta strain 2

A working day in Phuong Son starts before sunrise and ends at noon, when fishermen or mango and onion farmers sit in the shade, enjoying shrimp dishes and drinking beer together.

Phuong Son is the hometown of Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen, with 4 small villages with a population of about 5,500 people, located between the mountains and the ocean.

A woman wearing a mask pushes a shopping cart in Phong Cang village, Binh Dong district, Taiwan, in August. Photo: Guardian

But in the past few months, Phuong Son has become the focus of attention because of its achievement in defeating the Delta strain, despite being one of the poorest communes in the poorest district in Taiwan.

In June, in the midst of Taiwan’s worst Covid-19 outbreak with thousands of cases infected with the Alpha strain, Binh Dong district officials discovered a large number of unrelated cases in Phuong Son.

At least three people had traveled from one area to another, so regional health department director Shy Cherng-Guei requested their genetic sequencing.

`I am extremely shocked,` said Pan Men-an, district leader.

Son Ward has many advantages such as low rural population density, people who love outdoor activities and a highly compliant community.

The first patient in Phuong Son was Chang Feng-nan, 63 years old, one of 3-4 people working as taxi drivers in the commune.

The Delta strain spreads very quickly.

Chang is believed to have contracted the virus from a passenger he drove to the hospital.

How Taiwan's poor communes defeated the Delta strain

A corner of Binh Dong district viewed from above.

The response measures proposed by the Binh Dong government include the following factors: speed, decisiveness, and people’s cooperation in enforcing restrictions and contact tracing.

Before the gene sequence test results were available, Pan announced a three-day blockade of Phong Cang and Thien Du villages via public speakers, delivering food boxes and necessities to each household.

`We feel like soldiers on duty,` said Lu Meng-lun, head of the working group’s steering committee.

More than 14,000 people were tested, with lines a kilometer long.

`Everyone is scared,` said Tai Feng-chin, head nurse of Phuong Son hospital.

In a temple overlooking Donggang, a town in western Pingtung county, Lin Jung-ji, the temple’s caretaker, is proud that people in the town take care of each other, but wishes the government would provide more support.

`I hope there are more resources, those affected by nCoV or lost revenue are somewhat subsidized,` Lin said.

Officials and leaders praise the people’s solidarity against the epidemic, but the question of financial compensation is often overlooked.

Chang was frustrated because he had helped epidemiological investigators when he was sick but was now `abandoned`. He also couldn’t make money because people were afraid to ride in Chang’s taxi.

Many people in Phuong Son criticized Taiwan’s anti-epidemic agency CECC for allowing people returning from Peru to quarantine at home.

`CECC owes the people here an apology,` Huang Lung-sien, head of the Harbor Chamber development association, said angrily.

After the outbreak in Binh Dong, CECC changed its policy, requiring everyone entering the country to quarantine in a hotel.

How Taiwan's poor communes defeated the Delta strain

Chang, a taxi driver, the first case of infection with the Delta variant in Taiwan, in the bedroom of his home.

Since March 2020, Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) emergency program, has warned that the biggest mistake that countries and territories often make is hesitation.

`Do it quickly so you don’t have to regret it. You have to be the first. nCoV will always catch up if you don’t go fast,` he said.

The Delta strain cases in Pingtung are not the only cluster in Taiwan.

The response that Binh Dong gave was not perfect but it was effective at best.

`I didn’t expect to be able to control the epidemic cluster so quickly,` Shy said.

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