Taiwan imposes new regulations after first Covid-19 case since April
Country went 253 days without local instance of virus until pilot broke rules in Taoyuan
A man wearing a medical gown makes sure all visitors wear face masks in the lobby of a hospital in Taipei, Taiwan on December 11th. Photograph: David Chang/EPA
The change in Taipei was subtle but apparent. Within hours of authorities announcing Taiwan’s first community transmission of Covid-19 since April, more people were wearing masks in more places, and hand sanitiser dispensers appeared in doorways, positioned so people would have to step around them to avoid the hint.
Until Tuesday Taiwan had gone 253 days without a local case of the virus. The circumstances around the new case have sparked fear and anger.
Health authorities said they had diagnosed a woman in her 30s, a friend of a New Zealand-born resident and pilot in his 60s, who had flown between the US and Taiwan and moved about Taipei while infectious without disclosing his symptoms or movements to authorities.
The department of public health in Taoyuan, where the man lives, said he violated the Communicable Disease Control Act by failing to provide detailed and accurate information, and would be fined the maximum penalty of 300,000 Taiwan dollars (€8,700). His employer, EVA Air, is investigating and considering firing the pilot, who flew with two co-pilots while coughing and not wearing a mask.
President Tsai Ing-wen said the case was a reminder to everyone in Taiwan to stay vigilant. “It shows that the pandemic is far from over, and that international cooperation is key, because we’re all in this together.”
But the pilot’s actions have drawn an angry response on social media, and people have linked infections to foreigners coming into Taiwan, where the vast majority of arrivals must undergo strictly supervised quarantine but some – such as aircrews – have exceptions.
“He is bad [at] self-management. Please strictly control aviation industry personnel and do not let them run around freely,” said one commenter on Facebook.
“Foreigners who are sick don’t wear masks and they go to a department store or restaurant to eat. No one knows them. How can we know that they just arrived in Taiwan or not?” said another.
“His private life is his business. Please condemn him for his attitude and behaviour, but please do not hunt Taiwanese who were infected by him.”
Compared with the rest of the world, Taiwan has not been as dramatically affected by Sars-CoV-2, and life is relatively normal. There are no tourists but the economy has grown. But the fear of the virus breaching Taiwan’s defences is real.
In response to the case Taiwan’s health authorities announced new social distancing regulations. Standing tickets for indoor events are banned, and patrons must wear masks at all times and not eat.
The government has urged people to consider staying home for their new year celebrations.
Taiwan has also announced restrictions on foreign flights and flagged a tightening of quarantine arrangements for flight crews to 14 days at a government facility. Flight attendants previously only had to isolate for five days, pilots for three. EVA Air flights this week were also cancelled.
After acting quickly to early reports of a virus in Wuhan, Taiwan’s measures have kept its case total to fewer than 800 infections and just seven deaths. Its success has been credited to a strong health and disease control framework, fast government action and scepticism of Beijing’s early assurances, and a population scarred by the Sars outbreak, willing to co-operate with anti-epidemic measures.
Authorities have been extraordinarily cautious, recently expanding mandatory mask wearing rules ahead of the flu season, to little pushback. – Guardian