Taiwan: The Ignorance of Experts and Media

The absurdity of assuming "complacency" is responsible for COVID outcomes

One of the recurring themes of the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic was declaring winners and losers based on initial results. Consistently, the early “winners” included countries in Asia that appeared to control COVID with science-based non-pharmaceutical interventions. Naturally, the desire to replicate the apparent success in Asia led many experts and politicians to call for the same types of interventions to be implemented throughout the Western world.

Based on these few countries, hapless politicians terrified of contradicting their preferred experts or government health officials, began operating under the assumption that testing, tracing and masks were key to stopping COVID. As with most other COVID-related policies, those assumptions would turn into unshakable pseudo-religious beliefs, regardless of the clear lack of impact their policies had on proceeding outcomes. The perceived success of Asian countries resulted in an encoded dogma, which made it so that any failure of similar strategies in Europe or North America was attributed to shortcomings in compliance among the general public. An increase in cases became an inevitable consequence of Americans, for example, letting their guard down or getting complacent with their precautions. That dogma made it so that experts and politicians have repeatedly had to ignore the impossibility of people across states or countries coordinating en masse to stop complying with guidelines, and then, only a few weeks later, re-starting their adherence.

The initial experience of Asian countries like Vietnam, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, South Korea and a few others was something that could be achieved with collective action and public dedication, not the result of any possible external or intangible factors. Sure, some doctors, have theorized in Wall Street Journal articles that pre-existing immunity might be contributing to lower cumulative rates of infection or severe infection:

“There’s a theory, and I think it’s quite a strong one, that in East Asia a cold similar to the novel coronavirus spread widely and a large number of people caught it,” Dr. Suzuki said. “As a result of having immunity to a similar virus—although it isn’t bulletproof immunity—they either don’t develop it or don’t get seriously ill if they do,” he said, referring to Covid-19.

But referencing that theory would require acknowledging that government policy isn’t the only thing responsible for COVID-results. And that’s unacceptable.

The past few weeks have showcased the inherent flaws in assuming that masks and contact tracing control outbreaks, as despite the continuation of those policies, countries throughout East Asia have recently seen enormous increases.

Before we look at the data, it’s important to point out that the cumulative and population adjusted numbers remain low throughout most of these countries. But the implication advanced by experts and politicians is that their ability to prevent potential outbreaks is extremely important to debunk. Their insistence that stopping case growth is possible through collective dedication to public health measures is perhaps the most used justification for their policy recommendations or guidelines.


Taiwan

Taiwan has been repeatedly referenced by experts such as Gavin Yamey from Duke University as an example that countries could “stop this virus,” with appropriate dedication:

Yamey approvingly mentioned them pushing a “zero transmission strategy”:

And pointed out the extremely low number of new cases as being due to “basic public health measures” that “effectively ended community transmission” because “they followed science.”

So what’s happened in Taiwan of late?

Nearly vertical levels of case growth. The “zero transmission strategy,” the effective eradication of community transmission, the ability to “stop this virus…” all gone.

Now this isn’t to say that Taiwan will ever reach population adjusted numbers similar to the United States or Europe or South America, but their failure to continue down the path of zero COVID is exceedingly important. Yamey and experts who share his views have ignored that the overwhelming majority of the developed world has been unable to control COVID with nearly identical, or in many instances, more severe, measures than locales like Taiwan. They’ve attributed failure in the US and UK to poor government policy, mostly due to ideological differences with the former leader of the US and current leader of the UK. They’ve clung to Taiwan as a COVID-free utopia, a model for what the Western world could be, if we only tried harder. Yet suddenly, Taiwan and their science following public health measures are no longer effective in ending community transmission.

So how will Yamey and his ideological peers react going forward? Will they question their assumptions and re-visit their dogmatic dedication to mitigations as a result of this failure? Of course not. But we should continue to point out failures like this, because it’s important that we never again allow “experts” like him to influence public policy.


Now, you might be wondering if there’s been any attempt by media outlets to explain the dramatic reversal of COVID trends in Taiwan. To their credit, there have been a few stories covering the recent outbreak. However, to their everlasting shame and embarrassment, they have blamed…you guessed it…complacency.

Yup. Complacency. Again. The most nonsensical and oft-used defense of formerly praised locales.

Let’s look at some of their absurd hypothesis in further detail:

All the virus had to do was get through the border.

Until this week, Taiwan’s Covid-19 containment appeared to be so effective that virtually no other defenses were put in place: few tests, no local surveillance to pick up undetected infection and close to zero vaccination.

Just this one section is enough to point out the impossibility of long term “zero COVID.” “All it had to go was get through the border.” Yes. Exactly. It’s an infectious respiratory virus. Expecting to be able to control infections forever is remarkably ignorant because there is no endgame. There’s no way out. Perhaps more importantly, this sentence highlights the failure of their domestic containment measures. If all the virus had to go was “get through the border” to result in uncontrolled spread, why weren’t masks able to immediately stop it once it got there? Well we know why — because masks don’t work. But they can never admit that, so they gaslight about “complacency” instead.

The virus’s opening was an ill-fated decision on April 15 to shorten quarantine for airline crew to just three days, as carriers struggled to operate their cargo lines with staff undergoing 14-day isolation periods. Infected pilots introduced a more transmissible U.K. variant, whose spread was then accelerated through a network of “hostess bars” -- places both staff and patrons were reluctant to be associated with, making contact tracing more difficult.

This paragraph is a masterpiece of idiocy. The UK variant has not resulted in dramatically increased infections in the US or the UK, even before the impact of vaccines, but of course the writers use the variant boogeyman here. If contact tracing was “more difficult,” how do they know “hostess bars” are responsible? Not even the CDC recommends 14-day quarantines anymore, but sure, let’s accept the assumption that shortening the isolation period was partially responsible — if your quarantine guidelines were so draconian that it impacted the flow of CARGO coming in to your country, cargo presumably necessary for your population’s way of life, is it really a realistic and comprehensively effective policy?

So what do the experts think Taiwan should do in response to their worsening outbreak?

“If they have 300 diagnosed cases, they have 3,000 cases in the community -- they just don’t know it.” said Gregory Poland, a virologist and director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group. “It’s going to require a hard lockdown, what’s called a circuit-breaker approach, and then getting the vaccine out as quickly as they can.”

Lockdown! Of course. Of course they should do a hard lockdown. Because as we know, lockdowns are the only way to dramatically flatten the curve quickly:

They literally never learn and never even attempt to learn. They just adopt what other elite experts think and encode it as unquestioned truth. Regardless of what the data says.

But here’s my favorite part of the article, the pièce de résistance of ignorance and dogmatic dedication to pseudoscience:

Officials hope that measures like contact tracing and a population highly compliant with public health curbs like mask-wearing can keep spread under control until more vaccines arrive.

It makes your head hurt, doesn’t it? The population is highly compliant with “public health curbs like mask-wearing,” yet mask-wearing has not been able to prevent their newly imported community spread from spiraling out of control. But high mask-wearing compliance will also help keep spread under control.

How do they do it? It’s a masterclass in circular logic. Masks work to slow the spread, except when they don’t work. But then they’ll start working again, because of the same high compliance that stopped working a few weeks ago. The writers and experts responsible for this disgraceful insult to our intelligence should quite literally join the Masterclass series on YouTube. I can see it now, “Here’s our Masterclass on how to avoid admitting masks don’t work so as not to risk excommunication among the ignorant masses of ideologues who control modern acceptable discourse.”


The Pacific Rim

Gavin Yamey specifically mentioned how countries in the “Pacific Rim” were able to keep cases to <1000 per day, so let’s check on how a number of them are fairing now, shall we?

Well Malaysia by itself is up to around five thousand cases per day now.

Thailand’s rocketed up to around thirty-one hundred.

Just the Maldives alone, a collection of isolated islands with a population of ~530,000 are above that level now.

Vietnam, while still low, has seen over a 4000% increase in cases since last October.

Japan’s been up around six thousand cases per day recently.

And Korea’s even been hovering in the 650-700 range for quite some time.

So yeah! Not <1000 anymore.


I know what you must be thinking. All of these countries got complacent all at once…And you’re right. That’s the only explanation. That’s the only reason why cases go up. Complacency.

See this map? It’s a wonderful visual indicator of how people separated by borders and seas can decide to collectively unite in complacency all at once. A true tribute to the human spirit.

So if we learn anything from COVID, I hope it’s that we now understand the organizational ability of people who speak different languages and have dramatically different cultures to rise up all at once and ignore public health guidance. And then listen to it again. And then ignore it again. And then listen again. And then ignore it again. And that experts are dumb enough to really believe that line of thinking.