Coronavirus: Taiwan

Taiwan cancels more events as local virus cases rise

People shopping ahead of Chinese New Year in Taipei yesterday. Taiwan has been praised for its pandemic response, but a rare outbreak of Covid-19 infections connected to a hospital last week has caused alarm. PHOTO: REUTERS
People shopping ahead of Chinese New Year in Taipei yesterday. Taiwan has been praised for its pandemic response, but a rare outbreak of Covid-19 infections connected to a hospital last week has caused alarm. PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI • Taiwan has cancelled or postponed more large-scale Chinese New Year events after a rare outbreak of domestically transmitted Covid-19 cases connected to a hospital.

After the government's decision on Tuesday to call off celebrations for the Taiwan Lantern Festival in the northern city of Hsinchu, more cities have followed suit, including Kaohsiung in the south.

Other smaller-scale lantern festivals have also been cancelled, including in Taoyuan, where the recent cluster of infections was detected.

The Taiwan Lantern Festival is held in different locations every year to mark the end of the Chinese New Year, which starts from Feb 12 this year. But the three-decade-old event, which typically sees up to a million visitors, was cancelled after four Covid-19 cases were linked to an outbreak at a state-run hospital in the northern city of Taoyuan.

"It is difficult to control the crowd in an open space in the city," Cabinet secretary-general Li Meng-yen said on Tuesday.

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je said yesterday that the city was postponing its lantern festival events and cancelling the customary Chinese New Year street market in the fashionable Dihua Street area.

The presidential office has also said that it would not host its Chinese New Year reception, and that it would coordinate with the health authorities on whether President Tsai Ing-wen might visit temples during the holiday, as she normally would.

Taiwan has been praised for its pandemic response, with fewer than 870 cases and seven deaths so far.

Its success has been partly linked to its decision to halt foreign arrivals and place strict quarantine measures on the small numbers who could still travel to the island. At one point, it recorded 253 straight days without any local infections.

But a widening hospital outbreak that surfaced last week when a doctor treating a Covid-19 patient returning from abroad tested positive has caused alarm.

Over the past fortnight, five other doctors and nurses, as well as two of their family members and a Vietnamese caregiver, have contracted the virus both in and outside the hospital, bringing the cluster's total infections to nine.

So far, 353 employees at the hospital have started a two-week quarantine, and the health authorities are tracing and testing all contacts of the new cases.

"The number of confirmed cases is higher than our expectations. We need to continue working hard and show concern for our medical workers," said Health Minister Chen Shih-chung.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2021, with the headline 'Taiwan cancels more events as local virus cases rise'. Subscribe