Taiwan says needs to re-open, eyes March cut to COVID quarantine

A woman receives a booster shot of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at Taipei main station ahead of Lunar new year in Taipei, Taiwan, January 24, 2022. REUTERS/Ann Wang

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TAIPEI, Feb 14 (Reuters) – Taiwan aims to ease its strict COVID-19 quarantine policy from next month as it needs to gradually resume normal life and re-open to the world, the government said on Monday.

Since the pandemic began two years ago, Taiwan has succeeded in keeping reported cases of COVID-19 below 20,000, having enforced a blanket two-week quarantine for everyone arriving on the island even as large parts of the rest of the world have ditched theirs.

Speaking at a meeting with senior health officials, Premier Su Tseng-chang said that even though there could be further domestic infections the government was “quite confident” in its anti-pandemic measures.

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“The government must also take into account livelihoods and economic development, gradually return to normal life, and step out to the world,” his office cited him as saying.

On the precondition that there are sufficient medical supplies and preparations and that the vaccination rate continues to rise, Su said he had asked the Central Epidemic Command Centre to “consider whether reasonable and appropriate adjustments” should be made to the quarantine policy and entry of businesspeople.

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung, who leads the command centre in charge of fighting the pandemic, told reporters they were aiming to cut quarantine to 10 days before the middle of March, confident they can detect any infections within that period with testing.

“Basically, we can relax epidemic prevention” measures, he said.

But asked whether quarantine could be done away with completely before the summer holidays, Chen said: “The possibility is not high”.

About 30% of Taiwan’s 23.5 million people have now had a booster dose, a figure that is gradually rising, and the government has said it wants to get that to 50% before easing entry requirements.

Taiwan has never gone into full lockdown during the pandemic and has never closed its borders, though arrivals have generally been limited to citizens and foreign residence permit holders.

Chen said business travellers will be able to come again, and will have to do the same 10-day quarantine, but he could not offer a timeframe on allowing tourists back in.

Taiwan is currently dealing with a handful of new domestic COVID-19 cases a day, all as a result of the more infectious Omicron variant. Officials have said they are confident they can contain those outbreaks.

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Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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