Taiwan Confronts Sudden COVID-19 Outbreak with Technological Governance Ingenuity and Extraordinary Civic Cooperation

Taiwan entered a nation-wide level 3 epidemic warning on May 19. To contact trace the public contact while refraining from possibilities of violating personal data protection rights, the government launched on the same day a real-name registration system that utilizes QR code scanning via smartphones.

One of the major level 3 warning guidelines required all restaurants to implement ID-based registration and social-distance seating arrangements, otherwise, only take-outs and deliveries are permitted. To address public concerns about the possibility of data violations by private businesses on customers’ personal ID and phone numbers, Digital Minister of the Cabinet Audrey Tang led a team to develop and implement a secure new QR code system for real-name registration and contact tracing.

According to Tang, the new system takes only 3 steps for the user to complete, and in theory, should take no more than 5 seconds from start to finish. The user can scan the QR code at a store or public transit service with a smartphone, then tap the generated link, and then hit send in the SMS window that follows. The SMS fee is automatically waived, and the store or service provider does not receive or store any personal information. The user’s footprint is not tracked by telecommunications companies and the SMS will be deleted from the system after 28 days.

Passenger entering Taipei Railway Station shows the free text message function that appears after scanning the QR code.
(Photo: Peter Lo, Taipei Times)

The new QR code real-name registration system was officially launched on May 19. It was adopted by Taiwan High Speed Rail and Taiwan Railway soon after the announcement. Taipei Metro and Bus Service plans to implement the system by May 23, and taxi operators by May 26.

Meanwhile, in the country’s capital of Taipei, the epicenter of the outbreak, the people immediately demonstrated tremendous levels of awareness and self-discipline. Without the government enforcing any new forms of lockdown, the city’s streets became unprecedentedly empty over the weekend. According to Taipei Metro statistics, passenger count was down 2 million compared to the previous weekend. Popular destinations such as Taipei 101, Ximending, Tamsui Old Street, and night markets were mostly empty, as well.

Left: Xinyi District this weekend. Right: Xinyi District in the past
(Photos: CNA, Yahoo News)

It is hoped that with the government’s prompt reactions and the pubic continuing to demonstrate high levels of self-discipline, the country is on track to stop the outbreak from further spreading.

⦿ UPDATE: May 20_Taiwan Confronts Sudden COVID-19 Outbreak with Technological Governance Ingenuity and Extraordinary Civic Cooperation