Coronavirus: Taiwan health authorities push for one-metre social distancing rule as cases mount

A woman wearing a face mask walks in front of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan, on March 31, 2020.
A woman wearing a face mask walks in front of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan, on March 31, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI - Taiwan witnessed a sixfold increase in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the past three weeks, prompting the government to suggest a one-metre social distancing rule to contain the outbreak.

The initial plan is to ask people to stay at least one metre apart from each other outdoors, and at least 1.5 metres when indoors.

"If this isn't feasible under special circumstances, then people must wear masks or use physical dividers," Central Epidemic Command Centre head Chen Shih-chung told a press conference on Tuesday (March 31).

He praised the Taiwanese people for their "high standards" as law-abiding citizens for following government regulations so far.

"This is only going to be a relatively soft rule for now, but we will discuss more drastic measures after (the new rule) has been carried out for some time," said Mr Chen, who is also the Health and Welfare Minister.

At the press conference, Mr Chen's team disclosed the island had 322 confirmed cases and five deaths as of Tuesday. Three of the deaths occurred in the past two days.

Community transmission in Taiwan has remained relatively low because the authorities reacted early in January, urging people to wear masks when needed and to wash their hands regularly.

More than 80 per cent of the confirmed cases are imported, mostly of people returning home from abroad in March.

At least four people have fined NT$1 million (S$48,485) each for violating 14-day home-isolation orders after returning home. Beginning from March 19, Taiwanese residents - citizens as well as foreigners living on the island - have been issued with home-isolation orders upon their arrival, and are monitored by health authorities through their mobile phones. If they leave the address they are registered under, police officers will be dispatched to look for them.

 
 
 

"The government isn't made of plastic, and laws aren't made to be ignored. To maintain everyone's health, I'm asking everyone to cooperate with the government's virus containment measures," said Premier Su Tseng-chang after multiple people were reported to have left home-isolation just to buy food.