TAIPEI • Taiwan has extended its soft lockdown while easing some of its Covid-19 curbs as the government weighed the need to revive the domestic economy against risks posed by the global spread of the Delta variant.
There were just 18 newly confirmed domestic cases yesterday, the lowest daily figure since May 13, according to Taiwan Centres for Disease Control data, as the soft lockdown measures succeeded in curbing the island's worst outbreak.
"We have had fewer than 10 cases from unknown sources on four days over the past week, and about three cluster infections in the community," Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said at yesterday's briefing.
"We are on the verge of being able to lower the alert level. That's why we need to be more careful and keep it at the current level, while easing some measures."
The heath authorities remain cautious after a handful of infections of the Delta variant were reported, a strain that has forced some countries to reimpose curbs.
"We are not ready to downgrade the alert level yet" despite the local outbreak being under control, Cabinet spokesman Lo Ping-cheng said. But as the number of new cases has dropped from the peak in May, "it's necessary to ease some controls to give industries like domestic consumption and services a breather".
The curbs are hurting retail spending and threatening jobs, even as the broader economy expanded 8.92 per cent from a year earlier in the first quarter, the fastest pace in over a decade, on exports of semiconductors and other high-value products.
Mr Chen has said that rather than piecemeal relaxation of curbs in different areas, "any changes would apply island-wide".
There are some local rules as well, with Taipei having only just reopened its world-famous night markets, though with takeaway services only, daily temperature checks and compulsory registration of customers.
The authorities want people to have normal lives with a minimum of controls even before cases drop to zero, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je said on Facebook earlier.
Taiwan confirmed the first locally transmitted Delta cases in Pingtung County last month, after a woman and her grandson returned from Peru. The cluster totalled 17 as at Wednesday, with 13 confirmed to have the variant.
What will happen in Taiwan from July 13
• Sporting venues such as gyms and golf courses
• National parks, scenic areas
• Museums and movie theatres
• Restaurants, night markets and food courts (diners will still need to be socially distanced)
TO STAY CLOSED:
• Swimming pools
• Indoor family and social gatherings limited to five people•, outdoor family and social gatherings limited to 10 people
• Mask wearing in public
• No wedding banquets
• Restricted numbers for supermarkets and traditional wet markets
The Delta variant could be a problem for Taiwan, which has only inoculated about 12 per cent of its population so far.
The government aims to vaccinate 20 per cent to 25 per cent of the population by the end of July, President Tsai Ing-wen said this week.