TAIPEI - Taiwan's health authorities said on Monday (March 28) that despite previous plans to relax the island's mask mandate, people will have to keep their masks on throughout April due to a recent spike in locally transmitted cases.
The Central Epidemic Command Centre announced 127 new Covid-19 cases on Monday, with 34 domestic cases and 93 imported cases.
Most of the new cases are linked to cluster infections traced to Keelung and Taoyuan in northern Taiwan, but the authorities are still trying to track the infection source for two of the cases.
After keeping locally transmitted cases in single digits for most of March, Taiwan began to see the number increase significantly since last week, when it reported 15 domestic cases on March 24, up from just two the day before. The figure grew to 83 on Sunday.
"So far, there are 11 transmission chains with sources yet to be determined; we need to monitor this for at least another 10 days," said Health Minister Chen Shih-chung on Monday. "Among these, Keelung's cluster infections are slightly more complicated geographically; active control is necessary."
The clusters in Keelung involved a total of 39 police officers, students and Keelung residents who were infected after visiting a local eatery. The Taoyuan clusters are centred at a power plant construction project, where 47 migrant workers and three Taiwanese workers have been infected so far.
The minister was less concerned about the Taoyuan infections, citing the workers' limited activities and experiences in quarantining upon entering Taiwan recently as reasons why the clusters may be easier to contain.
In addition to the mask mandate, employees and visitors at places such as bars, karaoke halls, dance halls, beauty salons and saunas must be vaccinated with two Covid-19 vaccine doses and a booster shot, and proof of vaccination will be required for business operations, said Mr Chen.
As some countries in Asia have opened their borders to tourists, many Taiwanese are expecting restrictions to loosen soon for international travel.
"Overall we are moving towards easing restrictions, it's just a matter of speed. The easing will be paused only when the medical resources in Taiwan are at top capacity, but so far resources are ample," said Mr Chen.
Singapore is one of the Asian countries moving towards a new phase of living with Covid-19. There will be an easing off on mandatory mask-wearing outdoors from Tuesday. All travellers vaccinated against Covid-19 and children aged 12 and below will also be able to enter Singapore with just a pre-departure Covid-19 test from April 1. They will no longer be required to take only designated flights to enter Singapore quarantine-free.
As of now, Taiwan's borders are closed to foreign visitors, and Taiwanese flying in from overseas are required to complete a 10-day quarantine period.
Since the pandemic began in 2020, Taiwan has recorded 22,896 cases and 853 deaths.