Taiwan closes schools after another sharp jump in local Covid-19 cases

Soldiers disinfecting Wanhua district, an area that has one of the most Covid-19 cases, in Taipei, Taiwan, on May 16, 2021.
Soldiers disinfecting Wanhua district, an area that has one of the most Covid-19 cases, in Taipei, Taiwan, on May 16, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI - Schools will be closing for two weeks in Taiwan after several cities registered another record jump in community transmissions on Monday (May 17), with a whopping 333 local cases added to the 452 reported in the past week. 

The infections have mostly been detected in northern Taiwan, specifically in Taipei and neighbouring New Taipei city. Out of the 333 cases on Monday, 158 were in Taipei and another 148 in New Taipei. 

All schools in Taipei and New Taipei City will be closed until May 28, which is when the Level 3 alert for Covid-19 is scheduled to be lifted. 

Classes will now be conducted remotely, and parents are allowed to take special days off to accommodate their children’s learning schedules.

In addition to the two cities, Keelung has asked 9th grade and 12th grade students to stay home from Tuesday to ensure that they stay safe while studying for their entrance exams to high school and college, respectively. Miaoli, Taichung and Changhua counties will be closing specific schools with community cases detected nearby. 

After largely keeping Covid-19 contained for a little over a year, the number of confirmed cases on the island, most of them domestically transmitted, has nearly doubled from 1,132 to 2,017 since May 1. 

The rapid escalation is beginning to put a strain on hospitals in Taipei and New Taipei. While Taiwan has some 2,400 negative-pressure isolation wards across the island, the surge in infections has seen Taipei with only 51 wards left and New Taipei with 158 as of Sunday night. 

The Central Epidemic Command Centre (CECC) said on Sunday that those with mild Covid-19 symptoms in the greater Taipei area should remain in self-isolation at home, rather than go to hospitals to ease the strain on hospitals and their staff.

The CECC has also begun arranging for patients who have been hospitalised for over 10 days and do not need urgent medical care to be transported to collective isolation centres.

As of Monday, 133 such patients were moved. 

The surge in new infections has revived interest in vaccinations as concerns over the AstraZeneca vaccine – the only one available on the island now – recede.

The number of people getting vaccinated in a day shot up to more than 10,000 a day on May 13 from 3,690 on April 30. Nearly 130,000 doses have been administered, which is 41 per cent of what Taiwan has secured. 

The CECC on Saturday announced a pause in a programme which allowed people to pay for their own vaccines. This is to ensure enough doses are available for priority high-risk groups like front-line medical staff.

President Tsai Ing-wen, in an effort to address fears about supplies, has assured that new stocks will be arriving on time in July.