Taiwan reports first cases of new Omicron sub-variants

The five patients infected with the new sub-variants were all Taiwanese arriving from overseas, health authorities said. PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI - Taiwan's health authorities announced on Monday (June 13) that the island has detected its first cases of new Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5, as locally transmitted Covid-19 cases reported each day continue to remain high.

The five patients infected with the new sub-variants were all Taiwanese arriving from overseas and had tested positive upon their arrival, said the Central Epidemic Command Centre.

The two sub-variants started spreading rapidly in South Africa, Europe and the United States in the last few months.

Taiwan is in the midst of its worst Covid-19 outbreak since the pandemic began in January 2020, with domestic case numbers surging from just over 200 cases on April 6 to nearly 95,000 on May 27 - the highest number yet in this wave.

However, the number of cases has begun to decline slightly, dropping from 88,247 on June 1 to 45,081 on Monday.

As most of the cases so far have mild or no symptoms, the health authorities have been pivoting to coexisting with the virus since April, gradually relaxing restrictions and encouraging residents to get their booster shots.

Its newest policy change will go into effect on Wednesday, when overseas Taiwanese returning to the island will quarantine for only three days and self-monitor their health for another four days, as opposed to the original week-long quarantine and another week of monitoring.

"I have been hoping this day would come. I haven't been home to see my elderly mother in three years because the strict quarantine rules made travelling difficult," said housewife Grace Chao, 60, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband.

Prior to the pandemic, the couple visited their families in Taipei at least once a year.

Ms Hwang Wen-je, 32, is also getting ready to book her flight home to see her family.

"I flew back to vote in the presidential election in 2020, right before the pandemic began. I never thought it would be 2½ years before I could see my parents again," said the marketing specialist in Austin, Texas.

"The previous quarantine period was so long it wouldn't make sense for me to fly back only to have my freedom restricted."

Since the pandemic began, Taiwan has recorded more than 2.93 million confirmed cases and 4,280 deaths.

About 82 per cent of the population have received two vaccine shots, and 68 per cent have had their booster shot.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.