At the beginning of 2020, I flew back to Hong Kong after spending Christmas in the U.K. Little did I know that it would be nearly 365 days later I would be taking my next flight.
Pre-pandemic, my work as a travel writer and a constant urge to explore would see me take a trip at least once a month. But with many international borders closed, my travel came to a halt, at least until now.
Having reported for a mentally consuming period of 18 months on the Hong Kong’s protests and subsequent political crackdown, I recently made a conscious decision to take a step to the side, for now, by travelling to Taipei, Taiwan.
Hong Kong and Taiwan during COVID19
It only takes 1.5 hours to travel between Hong Kong and Taipei by flight. Despite their close proximity to Mainland China where the Covid19 virus originated, both have enjoyed relative success when battling against the virus.
Taiwan, in particular, has been one of the most successful countries in the world when keeping control of the pandemic. The island enjoyed 8 months without a local infection until recently, and with just 850 cases and 7 deaths out of a population of nearly 24 million, life has remained relatively normal.
But Taiwan’s success has largely been ignored by nations worldwide in the fear of upsetting China, who see Taiwan as part of its own territory and not a sovereign nation.
Despite Hong Kong enduring political unrest in recent years, the former British colony has enjoyed relative success with its battle against Covid19. This comes despite the city being located only four hours’ train ride away from Wuhan in Mainland China, where the Covid19 virus breakout began.
Hong Kong’s highly dense population of approximately 7.5 million has so far resisted a potentially catastrophic battle with the virus. There have been no strict lockdowns, with the city registering fewer than 10,000 cases, and 163 Covid19-related deaths.
In March 2020, Hong Kong and Taiwan both closed international borders to visitors.
Side-stepping to Taiwan
First of all, Taiwan is not open to international visitors. And right now, Taiwan is currently closed to foreigners due to a small outbreak on the island.
I entered Taiwan on a foreign media permit, granted by a media outlet I work with. To be able to board my flight, I needed a negative COVID19 test within 72 hours before arrival. I took mine two days prior, receiving the negative result a day before I was flying.
The Journey from Hong Kong
Hong Kong International Airport is normally one of the busiest airports in the world, but these days it’s far from it.
Since the second half of 2019, pre-pandemic, there would usually be a passport check before entering the arrival or departures hall, even for those not flying. This was because of mass protests at the airport in mid-August 2019 that grounded dozens of flights and caused chaos to the schedules of airlines.
But as I entered in January 2021, it was a temperature check instead.
Inside an almost empty airport, there were more airport workers than passengers. Flight schedules were few and far between, whilst queues to the check-in desks were non-existent.
To be able to check-in successfully, confirmation of the flight, hotel and pick-up driver booking was needed, along with a completed Health Declaration certificate and proof of a negative COVID19 test.
Two weeks of quarantine is mandatory in Taiwan in hotels approved by the Taiwanese government. After the two weeks, a further 7-days of self-health assessment is required. That means, a mask must be worn at all times, groups and crowds must be avoided, and eating out is not recommended.
The Journey to Taipei
Usually, the Hong Kong/Taipei route is a popular one, with several flights per day. I was on only the second flight of the day by the afternoon, indicating the effect the pandemic has had on airlines.
Approximately only a sixth of full capacity was on board the flight, leaving plenty of room for social distancing from other passengers. Still, the cabin crew were still keeping tabs on those trying to switch seats.
Taiwan kept its restrictions tight in its battle against the pandemic. Borders have been tightly closed to visitors, and track and tracing have been consistent to identify anyone potentially infected.
I expected a thorough check as I got through Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport. There were footprint symbols etched into the floor, directing where to stand and where to go next, including the checkpoint to show my Health Declaration certificate. All staff were wearing masks, in fact, there wasn’t anyone without a mask in the airport.
A local SIM card was another checkpoint on my way to immigration. Obtaining a Taiwanese SIM card is mandatory, so health authorities can contact those during the quarantine period. It cost around USD$64, for three months of free 4G Internet data plus 100 minutes for calls. The baggage carousel area was expectedly quiet, but there was no difference here to what it would have been pre-pandemic.
Once my driver collected me, it was about 40 minutes into the city of Taipei. After reaching the hotel, my temperature was taken as I was taken up to my two weeks of quarantine.
Taiwan is one of the least affected places in the world because of the pandemic. There is no lockdown, and barely any major restrictions.
At least for now, that will provide me with some opportunity to live more of a “normal” life, in-between work. And that means travel!
Keep following Words + Images for a second article on Taiwan in February 2021!