TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan announced plans on Thursday (Feb 24) to reopen to business travellers and shorten quarantine for all arrivals, slightly loosening restrictions in one of the few places alongside China still pursuing a zero-Covid strategy.
A mask mandate and some other restrictions will also be eased from March 1, authorities said.
The island was hailed for keeping Covid-19 at bay for the first year of the pandemic, but an outbreak detected last April forced Taipei to implement economically painful restrictions.
That included banning all foreign visitors, with the exception of a few categories such as residency holders and diplomats, since a surge in local infections last May.
Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Centre (CECC) said on Thursday that restrictions would ease beginning early March for foreigners coming in for business purposes, including inspection, investment, employment or fulfilling contractual obligations.
"We will open to foreign business people starting March 7 in line with some relaxations in the overall pandemic prevention measures," said Chen Tsung-yen, deputy head of the CECC.
Also from March 7, the 14-day mandatory quarantine for all arrivals will be cut to 10 days, in addition to a week of monitoring at home.
Currently, Chinese, Hong Kong and Macau residents can only apply for entry to fulfil business contracts or due to transferrals within multinational companies.
Business visitors have to apply in-person with Taiwan's de facto embassies, while Chinese nationals must apply online via local host companies to the National Immigration Agency.
"We had some domestic cluster infections before Lunar New Year but the number of local cases continued to fall in recent weeks," said Chou Jih-haw, head of the CECC's disease surveillance division. "The domestic situation is stable and under control."
Most of the island's detected cases are imported. On Thursday, Taiwan recorded seven local infections and 73 imported cases with zero deaths.
It is not yet clear when Taiwan might transition to living with the coronavirus, like most other major trading nations.
Foreigners in Taiwan have also complained that they still have to leave the island to renew visas.