Taiwan reports rise in Covid-19 cases, extends raised alert level to June 14

Soldiers disinfect a metro station in Taipei on May 25, 2021.
Soldiers disinfect a metro station in Taipei on May 25, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI (REUTERS) - Taiwan reported 542 new domestic Covid-19 cases on Tuesday (May 25), including 261 cases added to the totals for days over the past week or so as it continues to readjust its infection numbers following delays in reporting positive tests.

The island has been battling a rise in infections after months of relative safety, shocking a population used to living with few restrictions, though the total case numbers remain low compared with some other parts of the world.

Taiwan's government also extended the time period for its raised Covid-19 alert level to June 14, meaning restrictions on gatherings will remain in place, amid the rise in domestic infections. In Taiwan's four-tier Covid-19 alert system, Level 3 mandates mask-wearing once people leave their homes, social distancing and a limit on gatherings. The alert was originally due to expire on May 28.

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said two million vaccine doses would arrive by the end of June and 10 million by the end of August, though he did not give details, only saying that the numbers included domestically developed vaccines.

Taiwan has ordered more than 20 million doses from AstraZeneca Plc and Moderna Inc and is also developing its own vaccines. Mr Chen, however, made no mention of China’s offer on Monday to urgently send vaccines and medical staff, which has already drawn an angry response from Taiwan’s government.

The minister said that while infection numbers had continued to fall since last Monday, positive rates remained high.

While current measures were effective, Mr Chen said he was concerned about “hidden spreaders” in the community, which the authorities were not able to detect due to a time lag in getting test results. “There has been no sudden deterioration,” he said.

His ministry has been criticised by the opposition for a logjam with recording positive Covid-19 tests due to reporting delays following the surge in cases. Mr Chen said that was a concern for the virus to spread further.

“The worry is that...we are not able to control the hidden cases during this time period, which could lead to a worsening pandemic,” Mr Chen said.

Authorities are also scrambling to track the whereabouts of 300 people who were tested positive for Covid-19 in the capital Taipei and neighbouring New Taipei City, Chen said, urging local governments to work with the police to find those patients.

The government is also working to set up more test stations in "hot spots" across the island and has asked manufacturers to speed up the production of Covid-19 test kits.

Most of those infected in the current wave either have no or light symptoms. Northern Taiwan has been most badly affected, but cases have been reported across the island.