COVID-19 Second Wave Hits Taiwan

Once COVID-free, Taiwan brings back restrictions . . . 

After successfully containing the pandemic for more than a year, various Asian jurisdictions are now battling a recent surge in COVID cases. Taiwan has become one of Asia’s newest COVID-19 hotspots, with Taipei and neighbouring Taoyuan at the epicentre. The island reported 240 new COVID-19 cases and two new deaths today, taking its pandemic totals to 2,257 positive cases and 14 deceased. Although case numbers are minimal compared to other places, the Taiwanese government just announced new restrictions that will stay in place for two weeks, including closing business, public venues, and schools. And except for humanitarian staff, all non-resident travellers will be banned from visiting the island from May 19 to June 18.

What went wrong?

Taiwan implemented strict border control measures and quarantine policies at the very start of the pandemic. But after 253 days without a single locally transmitted COVID-19 case in 2020, restrictions were slowly eased and life had almost returned to normal – especially for returning nationals and business travel. Airline crews also saw their quarantine time reduced to three days. Authorities have traced the current outbreak to a COVID-19 cluster linked to airline pilots who visited bars and restaurants before testing positive, spreading the outbreak to the general community. Airline crews now need to quarantine for 14 days, but the virus has already quickly spread in the community.

Few saw need for vaccinations . . .

Taiwan’s low vaccination rate is also blamed for the outbreak. Normalcy had almost returned, so when the government began offering the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to the population in late March, few saw the need to get inoculated. Only about one per cent of the population has been vaccinated, in contrast to the U.S. or the UK, where around 40 and 30 per cent have received a vaccination, respectively. Taipei has mobilized its diplomats to secure speedier delivery of COVID-19 vaccines. And while the Taiwanese Stock Exchange Weighted Index dropped by more than four per cent on Monday, it surged back by more than five per cent today, showing that concerns over economic recovery remain closely linked to the pandemic.