Taiwan to end Covid-19 quarantine from Oct 13; S'poreans can now enter without a visa

Arrivals will still need to monitor their health for seven days and take antigen rapid tests. Tourists will be allowed to return. PHOTO: PEXELS

Taiwan has confirmed that it will end its mandatory Covid-19 quarantine for travellers from Oct 13, in its latest step to reopen to tourists. 

The date was first floated last week amid a string of other announcements to ease the island’s strict border control measures, including the end of polymerase chain reaction tests for travellers arriving on the island. 

On Thursday, the island also resumed visa-free entry for citizens of countries that previously had that status, including Singapore. 

Despite doing away with quarantine, travellers will still be required to monitor their health and take antigen rapid tests over a seven-day period. They will each be given four antigen rapid test kits at the airport on arrival. 

The tests are self-administered and travellers can go out as long as they have a negative test result within two days. Travellers do not need to report their temperatures.

Vaccination checks are not required, but travellers are required to don masks at all times while in public. Also, buying Covid insurance is not necessary. If travellers test positive, they should see a doctor and then stay in isolation in either a quarantine facility or at home.

“It is about time measures were lifted for inbound tourists,” Associate Professor Huang Cheng-tsung of the tourism department at Providence University in Taichung told The Straits Times.

“The number of Covid-19 cases detected on arrival usually makes up a tiny fraction of Taiwan’s total daily cases, so it would have a limited impact on healthcare services. There is really no need to restrict the entry and exit of travellers,” he said. 

On Wednesday, the health authorities reported more than 48,400 local daily Covid-19 infections and 192 imported cases. 

Taiwan is one of the last remaining economies in Asia that still has quarantine rules in place, although in June it cut the number of days travellers are required to be in isolation from seven to three. 

The gradual easing of restrictions is part of what the island calls the “new Taiwan model”, which strives towards coexistence with the virus without shutting down the economy. 

Last week, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said on Facebook that the island has “finally come to the final moment of the pandemic” while posting on the easing of border measures.

She added: “Now, we will do our best to revive tourism, stimulate the economy and lead Taiwan’s economy to great development.”

The pandemic has battered Taiwan’s tourism industry. In 2019, the island saw a record 11.8 million tourists, but the number was a dismal 140,479 last year. 

Mr Hu Fang, 73, who runs a lantern store at the famous tourist spot of Shifen, is among those who cannot wait to see the return of foreign visitors.

The usually popular tourist spot of Shifen Old Street, where visitors release their wishes on lanterns into the sky, has been extremely quiet while Taiwan’s borders were shut. PHOTOS: HAPPY LANTERN

Prior to the pandemic, tourists flocked to the quaint railway town to pen their wishes on paper lanterns before releasing them into the sky. 

In the past 2½ years, the alleys lining the iconic train tracks that run through the middle of the town have been eerily quiet. Mr Hu’s store has seen a 90 per cent drop in customers. 

“We’ve had to cope during the pandemic by cutting some workers and shortening our operating hours, but now we’re excited to welcome international tourists again,” he said, adding that he has in recent weeks stocked up on products and retrained his staff.

While borders were closed to tourists, many travel industry workers pivoted to other sectors – a problem hotels and travel agencies are now grappling with as they compete to boost staffing. 

Lion Travel, one of Taiwan’s largest travel agencies, has been on a recruitment drive since May, trying to bring the size of its workforce to at least 80 per cent of pre-Covid-19 levels. 

Before the pandemic, the company had around 3,600 workers, but the number has since whittled down to 1,600. 

“We’re really looking at ways to entice people to come back to the industry,” Mr Eagle Wang, the firm’s general manager, said without providing details. 

“Covid-19 hit us hard, but we also used that opportunity to think of new ideas to make Taiwan an attractive tourist destination,”  he added. 

These included working with Taiwanese indigenous groups and independent food sellers across the island to debut new railway travel routes.

“We really bulked up our domestic tourism offerings during the pandemic because the borders were shut, but we figured that these would be interesting for international tourists too,” Mr Wang said. “Many foreigners usually visit only Taipei, but we really want to show them that there is so much more outside of the city.”

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Luxury hotel chains, including Mandarin Oriental, Taipei as well as the LDC Hotels & Resorts Group that runs nine properties across the island, said they, too, are doubling down on efforts to hire workers as borders reopen. 

Mandarin Oriental, Taipei is eager to bring staffing strength back to 90 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, as 80 per cent of its room guests used to be international travellers. 

LDC Hotels has seen a 30 per cent reduction of staff in its housekeeping and catering divisions, but the group is optimistic that things will return to the way they were before. 

“If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we are always adaptable,” said a spokesman for LDC Hotels.

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