Taiwan eyes easing lockdown as new Covid-19 cases fall to single digits

Taiwan reported eight new domestic Covid-19 infections on July 17, the first single-digit total since May 11.
Taiwan reported eight new domestic Covid-19 infections on July 17, the first single-digit total since May 11.PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI (BLOOMBERG) - Taiwan's top health official indicated he is likely to lift soft-lockdown measures later this month, giving a boost to sectors struggling to stay afloat amid widespread Covid-19 restrictions.

The rapidly falling number of new daily cases means the government is unlikely to further extend measures aimed at halting the spread of Taiwan's worst Covid-19 outbreak once they come to an end on July 26, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said at a briefing in Taipei.

The Centres for Disease Control (CDC) reported just eight new domestic infections Saturday (July 17), the first single-digit total since May 11.

"Judging from the current trend, it's very likely we'll downgrade the alert level as the requirements are gradually met," Mr Chen said.

"The important task now is to continue preparing for the downgrade." Mr Chen also pointed to the percentage of the population that has received at least one vaccine shot rising to slightly more than 20 per cent as a key reason for optimism.

His comments will come as a relief to sectors of the economy that have suffered the most under the soft-lockdown measures.

While Taiwan managed to remain largely Covid-19-free throughout last year and the first few months of this year, a surge in cases in May prompted the health authorities to shut down schools, bars and recreation venues such as parks, gyms and karaoke bars.

Gatherings of more than five people indoors and 10 people outdoors are not allowed under the so-called Level 3 alert.

Restaurants, hotels and the retail sector have taken the biggest hit during the outbreak. Dine-in restaurants have lost around 70 per cent of their revenue while department stores have seen sales drop around 60 per cent, according to First Capital Management economist Liu Cheng-yu.

It remains uncertain what Mr Chen's latest remarks will mean for restaurants. The CDC lifted the ban on in-restaurant dining earlier this month in an effort to ease the industry's struggles, but imposed a series of rules, such as separated seating and partitions between tables.

Still, almost all local governments overruled the lifting of the restrictions, preventing restaurants from offering in-house dining once again. Whether they overturn the ban remains to be seen.