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Taiwan embraces cute mascots for virus prevention campaign
This photo illustration taken on February 14, 2020 shows a man pointing to a webpage from Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Facebook account, used to promote the prevention of the deadly COVID-19 coronavirus, in Taipei. While China deploys stern communist slogans in its battle against a deadly new coronavirus, democratic Taiwan has embraced cuddly mascots and humour to ease public anxiety and educate on best practices. Images of cute animals have featured in daily social media updates from government agencies to tackle disinformation and prevent infections spreading.
AFP/Sam Yeh

Taiwan embraces cute mascots for virus prevention campaign

Amber Wang (Agence France-Presse) - February 17, 2020 - 11:53am

TAIPEI, Taiwan — While China deploys stern communist slogans in its battle against a deadly new coronavirus, democratic Taiwan has embraced cuddly mascots and humour to ease public anxiety and educate on best practices.

Images of cute animals have featured in daily social media updates from government agencies to tackle disinformation and prevent the spread of infections.

The health ministry has deployed a cartoon "spokesdog" -- a Shiba Inu called Zongchai -- that has proved a hit with hashtags of his name going viral and posts shared hundreds of thousands of times.

Recent contributions have included advice on hygiene and quarantine regulations as well as reminding people to use face masks judiciously given the ongoing shortages since the new virus exploded in China.

"Leave face masks for the people who need them, frequently wash your hands with soap, reduce touching your eyes, nose and mouth with your hands," read one update. 

In a Valentine's Day message, Zongchai offered practical advice for dating during an outbreak, from regular hand washing to staying sober and practising safe sex.

The post ended with a question: "What if I am single?" to which the pup quipped: "Stay home then!"

The foreign ministry has rolled out a pigeon in a facemask to announce entry restrictions on foreigners with recent travel history to China, adopting the slogan "Virus OUT, Safety IN".

'So quacking exaggerated'

The economic affairs ministry plumped for a goose when it announced that rumours of disposable paper meal boxes running out were "so quacking exaggerated". 

The message deployed a homophone where the word for the noise a goose makes sounds similar to the first character for the word "exaggerated" in Mandarin.

The approach contrasts with the Chinese mainland where authorities have tapped their well-oiled propaganda powers to wage a "people's war" against a virus that has killed nearly 1,800 people.

State media has heralded the importance of patriotism to tackle the outbreak in a campaign reminiscent of Mao Zedong's cries to mobilise the masses. 

"To visit each other is to kill each other," read one slogan in a quarantined district in Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak. "To get together is to commit suicide."

Despite its cultural links and close proximity to China, Taiwan moved swiftly against the outbreak, quickly restricting and then banning arrivals from the mainland. 

The island -- which Beijing views as its own territory and keeps frozen out of the World Health Organization -- recorded its first death on Sunday but has kept confirmed infections to just 20.

There was brief panic buying of face masks before authorities limited each person to just two face masks every seven days using health insurance cards.

The island has also restricted the number of face masks a person can take abroad to 250. Last week, the coast guard stopped a fishing boat for attempting to smuggle out 71,000 masks.

The ruling Democratic Progressive Party, which is loathed by Beijing for leaning towards Taiwanese independence, has been deft at deploying cute memes to win public support.

President Tsai Ing-wen won a landslide second term in January after an election where she regularly featured as an anime-style cartoon character in campaign literature.

In a similar vein, Premier Su Tseng-chang took to his social media accounts in cartoon form this week to warn against panic-buying toilet paper.

"We only have one butt, don't hoard, don't trust rumours," the post read. 

Once again, a clever homophone was deployed. In Mandarin, the first characters for "hoard" and "butt" are pronounced the same. 

2019 NCOV COVID-19 NOVEL CORONAVIRUS TAIWAN
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: February 26, 2021 - 2:05pm

Follow this page for updates on a mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has struck dozens of people in China.

February 26, 2021 - 2:05pm

Japan will end a coronavirus state of emergency early in some regions as the pace of infection slows, reports say, less than five months before the pandemic-postponed Tokyo Olympics.

The emergency measure -- currently in force in 10 regions including Tokyo -- is looser than the strict lockdowns seen elsewhere in the world, and primarily calls for bars and restaurants to close from 8pm.

It is due to end on March 7, but the government will lift the measure this Sunday, just over a week early, in around six prefectures, the reports say. — AFP

February 26, 2021 - 8:45am

Brazil's death toll from Covid-19 surpasses a quarter-million Thursday, a year after the first case was confirmed in the country, which is struggling with vaccine shortages and a devastating second wave.

The new coronavirus has now killed 251,498 people in Brazil, according to health ministry figures — the second-highest toll worldwide, after the United States, where the number passed half a million Monday.

This has been the deadliest week yet of the pandemic in Brazil, with a daily average of 1,149 deaths over the past seven days, according to the ministry's figures. —  AFP

February 24, 2021 - 1:05pm

Fashionistas will have to log on to soak up the glamour at Milan Fashion Week, which remains online a year after the coronavirus first swept into northern Italy. 

No sharply dressed crowds will attend the extravaganza's opening on Wednesday: it's virtual catwalk shows only, with the likes of Armani and Prada presenting new women's collections for autumn and winter 2021-22. — AFP

February 23, 2021 - 11:31am

Movie theaters in New York City will partially reopen next month, Governor Andrew Cuomo announces, the latest easing of coronavirus restrictions in the Big Apple.

Cuomo says cinemas will be able to operate at 25% capacity, or up to 50 people per screen, from March 5 -- almost exactly a year since they shut. — AFP

February 21, 2021 - 5:39pm

The head of the World Health Organization on Sunday appeals to Tanzania to take "robust action" to combat COVID-19 in the country, where the president has long played down the virus.

President John Magufuli has claimed coronavirus has been has fended off by prayer in Tanzania, and refused to take measures to curb its spread. 

But a recent spate of deaths attributed to pneumonia has struck both members of the public and government officials.

And Magufuli on Friday appeared to admit the coronavirus was circulating in his country after months of denial.

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a number of Tanzanians traveling to neighboring countries and beyond have tested positive for the coronavirus.

"This underscores the need for Tanzania to take robust action both to safeguard their own people and protect populations in these countries and beyond," he said in a statement.

Tedros said he had urged Tanzania in late January to take measures against the pandemic and to prepare for vaccinations.

"Since then I have spoken with several authorities in Tanzania but WHO is yet to receive any information regarding what measures Tanzania is taking to respond to the pandemic. — AFP

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