The first cases were reported in two pilots on 20 April. Ten days later, the Central Epidemic Command Centre (CECC) announced an investigation into “the possible risk of transmission” among staff who had quarantined at the Novotel in the previous two weeks. The cases confirmed fears about the government’s decision to steadily relax required quarantine time for flight crews, down to just three days by mid-April with a mandated period of self-monitoring of their health. By the time of the investigation many crew members had checked out and some were later found to have visited public venues while infectious, in breach of the rules.
Dr Chiou Shu-ti, former health commissioner of Taipei, said authorities were “playing with fire” by relaxing the requirements while being “complacent” with testing of arrivals.
By early May, 18 airline and hotel employees and 11 family members had tested positive, and soon cases emerged in counties without a known link to the airport or hotel. By Monday, there were cases in nine cities or counties, all reportedly the same UK variant of the virus.
In response, the national and local governments have announced caps on gatherings, the closures of some businesses, public venues and schools, reduced non-Covid medical services, and tighter border restrictions. Residents are urged to increase hygiene and avoid travel. But the measures vary across Taiwan, and even the stricter rules in Taipei and New Taipei don’t come close to a full lockdown.
Taiwan’s health minister, Chen Shih-chung, acknowledged his intent was to allow businesses – including indoor dining – to keep operating, saying: “The spirit of level three is to reduce the risks of coronavirus spread, to reduce the scale of any gathering.”
Dr Chiou, who said her history as a one-time political candidate had coloured responses to her advice, warned authorities against following the mitigation strategies of the UK or US instead of aiming for elimination. She called for an immediate nationwide quasi-lockdown (with government financial support for workers) and then mass testing.