Taiwan reduces Covid-19 quarantine for arrivals even as cases rise

All arrivals will be released on the seventh day of quarantine as long as they are negative from a rapid test. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TAIPEI - Taiwan will cut its mandatory quarantine period for overseas Taiwanese from 10 days to a week from May 9, the island’s health authorities said in a press conference on Tuesday (May 3).

While Taiwan’s borders remain largely sealed to foreigners, Taiwanese returning home from abroad or foreigners who have applied for and received approval from the Taiwan government to enter the island will be allowed to quarantine at home for a week.

They then have to take an antigen rapid test and show a negative result.

Following this, they will have to complete a week of “self health monitoring”, when they should stay away from crowded public spaces and public transportation.

All arrivals will still have to take polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests upon arriving in Taiwan.

Many overseas Taiwanese welcomed the news, having refrained from visiting family in Taiwan due to the island’s strict quarantine mandate.

“Now, I might finally buy a ticket to go home, I haven’t seen my family in over two years,” said Ms Huang Wan-yu, 33. Ms Huang works in an advertising agency in Detroit in the United States, and has been saving her paid time-off for a longer trip back to Taiwan.

The relaxed quarantine rules come as Taiwan faces its worst Covid-19 outbreak since the pandemic began in early 2020.

Taiwan saw its daily Covid-19 case number exceed 20,000 for the first time on Tuesday, reporting 23,102 locally transmitted cases, as well as five deaths – the highest number in a day since the beginning of the year.

Since January, there have been 23 Covid-19-related deaths, with 12 of them unvaccinated, including the five who died on Tuesday.

According to Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Centre (CECC), most of the local cases were reported in northern Taiwan, with New Taipei City, Taipei, Taoyuan, Keelung and Taichung in central Taiwan each seeing more than 1,000 cases on Tuesday.

Despite the rapidly increasing number of cases, Taiwan’s health authorities are set on gradually scaling back Covid-19 restrictions in a bid to coexist with the virus without straining medical resources and front-line workers.

On Monday, the CECC announced that only people who had a positive result from a rapid test but show no Covid-19 symptoms can get a PCR test at a testing centre or a hospital because “the crowds of people lining up for a PCR test outside hospital emergency rooms have overwhelmed the medical care system”, said Health Minister Chen Shih-chung.

The CECC is also encouraging people to take a positive rapid test result seriously and isolate at home if they are asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms.

Those with serious Covid-19 symptoms should go to the emergency department for a PCR test and further treatment.

Currently, those quarantining at home have no access to antiviral drugs unless they visit the hospital to get a prescription.

Amid calls for the government to distribute antiviral drugs to those who are not hospitalised, the CECC announced on Monday that local pharmacies will soon be allowed to distribute antiviral drugs to those in self-isolation at home.

As at Tuesday, 80.18 per cent of Taiwanese have received at least two doses of Covid-19 vaccines, and 60.1 per cent of the population have had a booster shot.

The island has accumulated 173,942 Covid-19 cases and 876 deaths since January 2020. Of the 124,708 domestic cases recorded since Jan 1 this year, 99.76 per cent are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms, the CECC reported on Tuesday. 

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