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Lunch with Taipei Mayor Ko

The ECCT held its annual Premium Event lunch with Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je and senior officials from the Taipei City Government (TCG), marking the 23rd year since the ECCT held its first round table lunch with the TCG. At the lunch, Mayor Ko gave a short speech while Tom TC Chou, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for External Affairs gave a presentation to members about the city’s approach to the Covid-19 pandemic. After the speech and presentation, the ECCT’s Better Living committee Co-chairman, Tim Berge, led a Q&A session where Mayor Ko answered questions about some of the issues currently facing our businesses.

In his remarks, Mayor Ko said that the vaccine rollout in Taipei will depend on the central government’s ability to secure vaccines. While Taiwan has already received its first shipment of Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines, he made a prediction that Taiwan would not receive any of the US-made vaccines until September. He also expressed the view that digital transformation in Taiwan is proceeding slower than in other countries because the good handling of the pandemic has made it less urgent than in countries where the pandemic was more serious.

In his presentation, Commissioner Chou gave a summary of the city’s ongoing pandemic prevention and mitigation activities, including the future provision of vaccines.

He noted that the central government was responsible for border control and policymaking and regulations regarding quarantine while the city government is responsible for tracking confirmed cases within Taipei and the quarantine of incoming individuals.

The lessons learnt from the SARS outbreak in 2002-2003 included the importance of wearing masks and social distancing (especially during eating), the danger of disease spreading through central air conditioning and the need for negative pressure wards. Based on this experience, the city put in place standard operating procedures to deal with epidemics and expanded physical capacity, including the installation of 3,000 negative pressure wards in hospitals.

Taipei’s strategy during the pandemic has been to interfere as little as possible in day-to-day business, set up quarantine hotels and transport for persons requiring quarantine, increase international collaboration and support the digital transformation of industries. According to the commissioner, there are currently 104 quarantine hotels in Taipei.

The commissioner reiterated the point made by Mayor Ko that the vaccine rollout in the city would first depend on securing vaccines and that the city government would vaccinate people according to the central government’s priority list, which begins with healthcare workers. He stressed that foreign residents would be treated the same as citizens in getting the vaccine.

He added that the city was prepared and that 38 hospitals in Taipei are ready to start vaccinating people, starting with healthcare workers.

However, because the vaccine rollout is expected to take some time, in the meantime, we need to get used to living with the pandemic. For individuals this means wearing masks, minimising physical contact and maintaining hygiene. For companies and government this means speeding up digitalisation. In this regard, the Taipei City Government has held a series of nine conferences to gather information and conduct analysis, which they used to prepare a white paper titled “Taipei City's Action Plan for Digital Transformation of Industries in the Post-Pandemic Era”. The paper was released on 25 February.

In the Q&A session, Tim Berge praised the city government for progress made in terms of equal treatment, including granting senior foreign residents eligibility to apply for Easy Card pensioner’s discounts.

On a question about the future of Songshan Airport, Mayor Ko said that the airport could be closed if there were sufficient capacity at Taiwan’s other airports. In his view, if there were a third runway at Taoyuan International Airport, there would be no need for Songshan Airport but that this is a decision that is up to the central government.

On a question about what would make Taiwan truly international, Ko expressed the view that Singapore’s experience shows that bilingual education will play a crucial role. He reported that 51 out of over 200 schools in Taipei are already teaching a third of subjects in English. If the same policy is implemented across all schools in Taiwan, he said he believed that the bilingual approach would change the mindset in Taiwan.

On the question of electric vehicles, Ko said that the city government’s priorities are to electrify the bus fleet, and increase the electric scooter sharing and bicycle sharing networks but that the city would also subsidise passenger car charging. Although he did not give specifics, he suggested that electric vehicles would pay less for parking than conventional internal combustion engine vehicles in bays that are equipped for charging. As to the question of punitive measures for scooters riding in bicycle lanes, the mayor said that the city first needed to give before taking, explaining that enough bicycles would have to be made available before the city starts issuing fines. He added that it will take two years to create around 1,200 Youbike stations to be sufficient.

At the lunch ECCT members were also able to raise questions or discuss issues of concern with city government officials, who were seated at different tables at the venue. Besides the mayor and Commissioner Chou, the following city government officials attended the lunch: Dr Lin Chung-Chieh, Commissioner, Department of Economic Development; Chen Shyue-Tair, Commissioner, Department of Transportation; Chou Yu-hsiu, Commissioner, Department of Social Welfare; Chen Hsin-yu, Commissioner, Department of Labour; Dr Huang Shier-chieg, Commissioner, Department of Health; Huang Hung-kuang, Senior Specialist, Development, and Evaluation Commission; Gordon Yang, Executive Secretary, International Affairs Advisory Council; Chen Su-hui, Deputy Commissioner, Department of Education; Chen Tsao-chou, Assistant Commissioner, Department of Environmental Protection; Lo Shih-yu, Deputy Commissioner, Department of Urban Development; Adam Yi, Deputy Executive Director, Mayor’s Office for External Affairs; Liu Mei-hsiu, Director, Taipei City Construction Management Office; Jiang Chuen-huey, Senior Specialist, Department of Information and Tourism; Anne Chen, Division Chief, International Affairs Division, Secretariat.