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Wen-Je Ko’s Special Column | Prepare Appropriately for the Moment Without Irrational Fears: Taipei’s Decision to Continue with Their New Year’s Eve Celebration

2020 Taipei City's New Year's Eve CelebrationRight when the rest of the world was fighting an uphill battle with COVID-19, the Taipei City Government made the major decision on the last day of 2020: that Taipei would continue its New Year’s Eve celebration!
Use Rational Scientific Data to Determine Strategic Method
It was a difficult decision for me to make. There was a great deal of external political pressure, and I pondered about it all night. Aside from the scientific data and information collection, there were political risks involved.
This was not a decision as simple as calling a day off due to a typhoon, since the current issue impacts the health and safety of our citizens. In the same way a doctor makes a diagnosis, we collected information before making a final decision. The city government took 12 hours to complete thorough data collection. During the morning assembly that day, I listened to each department’s presentation and through these collaborations, I made a comprehensive judgment and decision.
Taiwan is famous for our Information and Communication Technology (ICT), but we do not have much of a culture surrounding data governance and culture.
To be quite frank, Taiwan is much less digitized than countries such as Estonia. Data is an important basis for decision-making in governance. When making decisions, we should utilize this information to the best of our ability. The impact of the global pandemic continues to be extremely serious. However, there have been no large-scale changes or new evidence of community infection in Taiwan thus far.
The previous New Zealand aviator case has already passed through the virus observation period. The latest strain of the virus has been confined to areas beyond Taipei. In other words, the possibilities of community infection is relatively low.

Everyone is worried about the newest strain of the virus due to the science showing that it has a higher rate of transmission. However, evidence shows that it will not affect the development of the vaccine. The current pandemic prevention measures are currently sufficient, and changes are unnecessary as long as we stay diligent with our prevention measures.
The Taipei City Government put together a team of 64 people to disinfect the area where the New Year’s Eve celebration was held. They effectively cleaned the venue and restored traffic within 20 minutes before the end of the New Year’s Eve event.
Adhere to Standard of Operations (SOPs), Impose Stringent Border Control
Taipei’s strategy towards containing COVID-19 is to strictly adhere to our Standard of
Operations (SOPs) and impose tight border controls, including utilizing quarantine hotels and enforcing home quarantines. We aim to apply rigid border control measures to prevent imported infections from interfering with domestic anti-pandemic efforts, preventing a potential crisis.

When dancers from the Moscow Classical Ballet troupe tested positive for COVID-19, I insisted that they cancel their performance as it would prevent the virus from breaking through the first line of defense. Had it done so, then the Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Protection would have needed to immediately launch investigations and designate treatments for infected patients to ensure that the virus was contained. In the past year, I agreed that there should be no limitations on overtime pay for workers in the Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Protection. I hope that these two lines of defense will effectively prevent the spread of the virus.
If these first two lines of defense are broken through, Taipei City Government will initiate appropriate levels of protective measures depending on the number of people infected. We created certain benchmarks: if there is a case with an unknown origin, we plan on increasing protective measures; if there are fifteen local infections or more, mass gatherings will be ceased; and if the number of infections exceeds to a thousand, a lockdown will be implemented.

What’s Impressive About Taiwan’s Efforts Isn’t That There Are Few Cases, but
Rather the Disruption of Society Was Kept to a Minimum.

The most successful part of Taiwan’s pandemic prevention measures over the course of the last few months is not the fact that the case count remained low, but that we allowed society to continue with minimal disturbances to their daily lives. From the perspective of foreigners, this is what is the most impressive. As long as we remain diligent in our preventive efforts, events can continue to be held without interference.
This is the idea of the new normal that we have been emphasizing. If the pandemic continues for one to two years, we must try to coexist alongside the virus and not let it disrupt our lives too much.
Since the rise of the pandemic, no private business in Taipei has been forced to close
permanently due to the virus. Our economy has been stable because society is still operating and as a result, citizens are able to resume their normal lives despite the pandemic.
What I want is for our pandemic prevention policies to allow economic activities to continue while still being effective. After all, when the government interferes with economic activities, it is not the white collar workers who are impacted, but rather the working class and their ability to sustain a living.
For example, Taipei City recently safely organized the “Taipei City Marathon,” demonstrating the reliability of our SOPs with large gatherings. Based on my professional opinion, the danger is not the people that wear masks outdoors, but rather those that use indoor dining with everyone eating and talking.
Truthfully, if we want to put a stop to New Year’s Eve activities, then restaurants and night markets should have been closed early on. Metro trains are even more densely packed, so should we stop taking them all together? I disapprove of these kinds of fear inciting populist politics.

This New Year’s Eve, we emphasized reasonable risk assessment and control in addition to preventative mechanisms. We asked citizens to comply with the following to decrease risk: utilizing real name registration, restricting crowd capacity, and sectioning off areas in order to maintain social distancing.
The digital foundations that Taipei City has developed through TaipeiPASS will be a part of the contact tracing and efficient disease control efforts.
Taipei’s big data center oversaw and controlled the amount of real-name registration for the New Year’s Eve countdown event.
Apply Appropriate Preparations, Don’t Be Defeated by Irrational Fear
Governing is forever a balance between ideals and pragmatism, and this is why I oppose excessive advance preparation. I am an advocate of suitable and appropriate measures as a solution to minimizing disruptions in society and maximizing economic activity.
According to my knowledge, there are only two nations globally that were able to achieve positive GDP growth in 2020, with one of them being Taiwan. As the “scientist in politics,” I heavily relied on realistic data and scientific evidence to reject irrational thoughts.

Special thanks to all the Taipei City Government workers for their arduous efforts. Because of you, citizens are able to advance into 2021 without being isolated indoors by fear. I am not bargaining my political career but rather seek to create a professional governmental team that rationalizes and decides on policies based on scientific data. That is our goal as a team.
At the end of the day, we all still have to move on with our lives. What needs to be done, must be done. I stand by the phrase of “preparing appropriately without being defeated by irrationality and fear.” We hope our New Year’s Eve event can become a pillar of blessings and hope for other countries, as it puts Taiwan on display to the world.
Let us wave goodbye to 2020 and march forth into 2021! 
「Taipei City’s New Year’s Eve Celebration Video」
Wen-Je Ko
Mayor of Taipei City
Doctor at the National Taiwan Hospital.
Chairman of the Department of Traumatology at the National Taiwan University Hospital.
Professor of College of Medicine at the National Taiwan University.
Political avocation falls under the everyday lives of citizens, and will cultivate through time.