Taiwan to close all schools amid rise in Covid-19 cases, 2 deaths reported

A worker disinfecting a school in Taipei on May 16, 2021.
A worker disinfecting a school in Taipei on May 16, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI (REUTERS, XINHUA) - Taiwan's government said on Tuesday (May 18) that all schools would close until May 28 as the island reported two new deaths in the latest wave of outbreak even as the rate of increase in cases slowed slightly.

Taiwan reported 240 new domestic Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, a drop from the 333 cases on Monday.

The island has reported almost 1,000 new domestic infections during the past week, leading to new curbs in the capital, Taipei, and shocking a population that had become accustomed to life carrying on almost normally, with the pandemic well under control.

Education Minister Pan Wen-chung told reporters that starting Wednesday, all schools across the island would be closed until May 28, with classes held online.  

Speaking at the same news conference, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung announced 240 new domestic Covid-19 cases, down from the 333 reported on Monday.

He also announced two new deaths, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 14.  

Mr Chen cautioned that the smaller increase in cases did not mean the virus had been brought under control.  

“We don’t view this with optimism,” he added.  However, Mr Chen said, most of the cases being reported were mild ones.  

The government says those with mild infections or who are asymptomatic can recover at home under quarantine.  

The domestic cases have been concentrated in northern Taiwan and are connected to an earlier outbreak among pilots and a hotel at Taipei’s main international airport, though the government is not sure of the exact chain of transmission.  Taiwan has reported a total of 2,260 infections since the start of the pandemic.

One of the patients who died on Tuesday was a 86-year-old man with multiple chronic diseases, the first person to die of the disease since domestically transmitted cases of the disease began spiking in late April, local media reported.

He was among a cluster of infections in Far Eastern Memorial Hospital in New Taipei City, the hospital said, adding that two of its nurses had tested positive for Covid-19 during its second round of screenings.

The two nurses are now under quarantine in isolation wards. The hospital is scheduled to conduct its third round of screenings on Wednesday. The two new additional cases mean the hospital cluster now total 11 cases with one death.

Meanwhile, Taiwan is mobilising its diplomatic corps to secure a speedier delivery of Covid-19 vaccines – a quest that has become more urgent since a sudden rise in domestic cases on an island that has vaccinated less than 1 per cent of its population.  

Taiwan, a major semiconductor manufacturing hub, has received only about 300,000 shots so far for its more than 23 million people, all AstraZeneca vaccines, and those are rapidly running out.  

In comments published on Tuesday by Taiwan’s official Central News Agency, Taipei’s top official in Washington said she was in talks with the United States for a share of the Covid-19 vaccine doses President Joe Biden plans to send abroad.

“We are in negotiations and striving for it,” said Ms Hsiao Bi-khim, the de facto Taiwanese ambassador to the US.  

She said that although vaccine purchases were the remit of Taiwan’s Health Ministry, her office’s role was to talk to the US about speeding up those requests.  

Mr Biden said the US would send at least 20 million more vaccine doses abroad by the end of June.