Taiwan reports 10 Delta variant cases in pre-school cluster, considers higher Covid-19 alert

Health authorities are mulling over tightening restrictions islandwide once again. PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI - Taiwan's Health Minister, Mr Chen Shih-chung, confirmed on Wednesday (Sept 8) that 10 people in a cluster of 23 Covid-19 cases linked to a pre-school in New Taipei City had contracted the Delta variant.

The health authorities are mulling over tightening restrictions islandwide once again less than two months after they lowered the Covid-19 alert to Level 2 on July 23 - allowing dining in eateries, larger gatherings and the opening of some recreational spaces. This was followed by another decision on Aug 9 to remain at Level 2.

New Taipei City, where the pre-school cluster and many of May and June's outbreak hot spots were located, said on Wednesday that on-site dining will be banned for a week in the light of the cluster's severity.

According to the Central Epidemic Control Centre (CECC), over 1,000 people in the city have been placed in self-isolation at home and are being tested for the virus.

"It's possible that community cases have grown quite a lot," admitted Mr Chen.

While daily Covid-19 numbers in Taiwan have dropped significantly since a string of major local infections in May and June, about half of the 23.5 million population remain unvaccinated due to a vaccine shortage.

As at Aug 29, only 42 per cent of Taiwanese had received their first jab.

Taiwan reported 16,056 Covid-19 cases as at Wednesday, including 14,393 locally transmitted cases that were reported when a massive outbreak began on May 15.

The number of Covid-19 deaths remained at 837, with no new deaths reported for six straight days.

The New Taipei City pre-school cluster, the island's most recent one, includes nine schoolchildren and one teacher. Several children, as well as the teacher, have contracted the Delta variant. Others infected include family members, as well as several people who live in the same community as one pupil.

Besides this cluster, there was also a confirmed case in a Taipei elementary school.

These infections led to a number of schools across the two cities suspending classes, affecting some 4,800 students. The schools will be closed for three to 14 days, depending on the school boards' decisions.

The Delta variant was first discovered in Taiwan this June, spreading from a taxi driver to another 16 people in southern Pingtung county, but was contained in three weeks.

On Sept 3, the CECC reported that two EVA Air pilots had contracted the Delta variant overseas and tested positive when returning to Taiwan despite both being fully vaccinated. A third EVA Air pilot and one pilot's son later also tested positive for the Delta variant.

One of the pilots was fired by EVA Air shortly after testing positive as the airline discovered that he had violated health management guidelines for fully vaccinated airline crew. He had failed to stay home for a full week after returning from overseas and had met his friends multiple times.

The pilot was also dishonest in filling out his pre-flight health declaration papers even though he had experienced Covid-19 symptoms in late August, before piloting a flight to Brisbane, Australia.

Taiwan's Level 2 alert is slated to last until at least Sept 20.

The island has a four-tier disease control system. The alert was raised to Level 3 islandwide on May 19, four days after it confirmed more than 100 new cases in a day for the first time.

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