By Cheng Wei-chi and Liu Tzu-hsuan/staff reporter, with a staff writer
Around 100 taxi drivers protested outside the buildings housing the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) and the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MOTC) in Taipei yesterday, demanding that the government ensure an adequate supply of COVID-19 rapid test kits. 19 for drivers.
The government launched a rapid test kit rationing program on April 28, setting the price at NT$500, with each kit containing five rapid tests. However, supplies are limited, with long queues at pharmacies that sell them.
On Thursday last week, some supermarkets and other retailers also started selling COVID-19 rapid test kits for NT$180 each, but many complained about the price.
The protest was organized by the Taipei City Taxi Drivers Union and an industry union representing the appointment shuttle service on digital platforms.
Peng Chih-yuan (彭芝園) of the industrial union said other countries provide the kits to citizens for free, while the Taiwanese government “sells them for NT$180 per kit”.
KiKi, a self-employed taxi driver, said she used to earn NT$1,000-2,000 working eight hours a day, but now works around the clock, but only earns around NT$500-600.
Passengers would ask her if she had taken a rapid test and complain if she refused, KiKi said.
They were asking, “Why don’t you test since you are in contact with so many people? or “How can you prove you’re virus-free without taking a test?” she says.
Protesters said some passengers would even get out of their taxis and take a bus or walk home because they considered it too dangerous.
Besides testing kits, many drivers have found it difficult to buy fever reducers and can only drink salt water when they have a fever.
Taxi driver A Mu (阿沐) said he lived with his 80-year-old father, 75-year-old mother and second-grade son, and was afraid of passing the virus on to them.
He said he was already spending a few hundred dollars every day to disinfect his taxi, and buying rapid test kits would further reduce his income.
The two unions presented four calls to the government: replace quarantine with rapid tests to allow people to return to normal life; ask the CECC to provide sufficient kits to taxi drivers to ensure the safety of drivers and put passengers at ease; order the MOTC to increase the number of disease prevention taxis; and provide additional subsidies to help transport service providers survive.
The demonstrators were shocked to see only a section head of the ministry show up to accept their petition and no representative of the CECC.
Well Lee (李威爾), a union spokesperson, tore up a cardboard cutout of Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the CECC, and said he would consider more drastic measures during its next protest, such as besieging the CECC with their taxis and throwing eggs.
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