What do the Taiwanese wear

How the Taiwanese feel about the mask requirement - and the secret of Japanese success

Overcautiousness in Taiwan and social cohesion in Japan: According to our correspondents in the Far East, these are the recipe for success in the fight against the pandemic. Two reports from everyday life.

Anyone walking through the streets of Taipei might think there is a mask requirement. Almost all pedestrians carry one, including most cyclists and scooters. You can even see some Taiwanese people wearing mouth and nose protection during morning exercise.

There is no such obligation, just a recommendation. Wearing a mask is an expression of a widespread caution among Taiwanese, one could also say: overcautious. Because Covid-19 is still practically non-existent in Taiwan - almost all of the almost one thousand cases since the beginning of the pandemic are infections imported from abroad, most of which are noticed during the fourteen-day quarantine that all travelers have to complete.

The authorities are acting similarly cautious. When Taiwan reported a local infection in December for the first time in 253 days - a New Zealand pilot had infected a Taiwanese woman - the largest city on the island, New Taipei City with around four million inhabitants, canceled its Christmas market. Thanks to this attitude, Taiwan got through the pandemic like hardly any other country in the world - so far there has not been a single lockdown.

But the further you get away from the metropolises and the largest international airport in the north of the island, the easier it is to get the impression that everything is as always. For example, customers in supermarkets should actually wear a mask. But in the far south, in the tropical province of Pingtung, locals don't always do that and nobody says anything - laisser-faire in Taiwanese.

Pandemic correct Japanese

Screaming children in the playgrounds, full shopping malls - in Japan's second Corona emergency things are quite lively. In fact, it is busier than its neighbor Korea: There, the students mostly study online, although the country has fewer infections and has a digital infection hunt and strict quarantine. Japan, on the other hand, is continuing its special path in Asia, which has a comparatively gentle effect.

Tracking of Covid-19 cases is still done traditionally. Privacy is protected as in Europe, even the Corona app is just as useless. And politics and epidemiologists have emphasized from the beginning that they do not want to eradicate the virus, but want to live with it.

This is already expressed in the unreasonable demands that the government imposes on its citizens. During the first emergency in spring, the children had to stay at home and most of the department stores had to close. However, even then I noticed only minor changes in my district. Because supermarkets, small shops, hairdressers - even those for dogs - were still open.

In the second emergency, things are even more relaxed, although the virus wave swept significantly higher from December onwards. At peak times we had more than 8,000 cases a day (for a population of 126 million). This time only the restaurants, bars and nightspots have to close at 8 p.m. And during the quarantine you can go shopping in the supermarket. But in combination with increased teleworking, this was enough to stop the new wave.

The secret of the Japanese success is firstly that politics reacts relatively early so as not to allow values ‚Äč‚Äčlike in Europe to emerge in the first place. Second, even before the crisis, the Japanese lived more correctly than Europeans in pandemic terms: Hardly anyone here shakes hands, hugs each other in greeting or kisses cheeks. A bow is enough. And wearing a mask was a good form even before the pandemic, especially if you yourself had a cold. The Japanese used more than five billion masks a year - before the pandemic.

Third, the residents broadly follow the experts' requests. This is not ensured by penalties, but on the one hand the will to protect oneself and on the other hand social cohesion, as sociologists would say. In other words: the vaguely perceived peer pressure that pervades Japanese society. You just wear a mask because that's the way it is and everyone does it that way. Otherwise you use the freedoms as long as you have them.