TAIPEI - Taiwan saw a record rise in community transmission of Covid-19 cases on Friday (May 14), with 29 new cases, including 16 linked to a cluster involving teahouses in Taipei's red-light district.
This was a second record jump in a week, after 16 new cases were reported across the island on Wednesday.
The increases have alarmed Taiwanese who, fearing a possible lockdown, have rushed to stock up on essentials.
Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je has said that bars, dance clubs, karaoke lounges, nightclubs, saunas and Internet cafes as well as hostess clubs and teahouses will close from Saturday until further notice.
Health Minister Chen Shih-chung told a news conference on Friday that many of the 29 new cases were connected to a cluster which arose from teahouses in Taipei's Wanhua district.
Hostesses and patrons were among the confirmed cases, said the Central Epidemic Command Centre (CECC) and some of those infected had also visited temples, restaurants and markets in central and southern Taiwan.
Dr Chen called for everyone who believed that they may have come into contact with an infected patient to get tested at rapid testing stations set up around Wanhua.
"The sooner testing happens, the sooner the chain of transmission can be broken," he said.
The island, which has been praised for its highly effective Covid-19 response, has been hit with a string of clusters since late April.
The surge in infections began with several China Airlines crew members and their families, and this later spread to staff at a hotel being used for quarantine at Taoyuan International Airport. Hotel staff consequently infected family members.
In northern Taoyuan, the city government has decided to shut down entertainment venues from Saturday to June 8.
Another cluster began in north-eastern Taiwan's Yilan county on Wednesday, centred on an amusement arcade, with one customer and several arcade employees infected.
A further cluster was detected in Luzhou district in New Taipei city, involving members of the Lions Club International organisation. One member in particular infected 20 of his friends.
Those in the Yilan, Luzou, China Airlines and quarantine hotel clusters were infected with the coronavirus variant first detected in Britain, which National Taiwan University public health professor Chen Hsiu-hsi said was "extremely infectious or about three times more so than that of the strain first detected in Wuhan in China".
On Tuesday, the authorities announced stricter measures for gatherings, dining at restaurants and taking public transportation and the tough measures are scheduled to last until June 8.
"I think it might be mid-June before things get better," said Prof Chen.
The island has so far recorded 1,290 confirmed cases, with 12 deaths.
Mounting infections have led to renewed interest in vaccinations as concerns over the AstraZeneca vaccine - the only one available on the island now - take a back seat.
The number of people getting vaccinated in a day went from 3,690 on April 30 - 10 days after the airline cluster erupted - to over 10,000 a day on Thursday. Nearly 130,000 doses have been administered, which is roughly 41 per cent of what Taiwan has obtained.
President Tsai Ing-wen told a news conference on Thursday that a domestic vaccine was expected to become available to the public starting late July.