Taiwan reported 29 local cases on Friday, 180 on Saturday and 206 on Sunday. The numbers are small compared to many countries, but they are a blow to Taiwan, which has bolstered its international profile through its skillful control of the virus.
By Friday, he had recorded a total of just 135 local infections.
At least some of the clusters are linked to an outbreak that erupted in April at the Novotel hotel in Taoyuan International Airport. The new cases are mainly in the Greater Taipei area, which borders Taoyuan City, where the airport is located. A few cases have been confirmed in other parts of the north as well as in central Taiwan.
In mid-April, Taiwan relaxed quarantine requirements for unvaccinated pilots and other crew members from five days to three. At the same time, he said vaccinated crew members from Taiwanese airlines no longer had to self-quarantine.
It was later discovered that the Novotel had placed pilots and flight crews in quarantine in the same building as regular customers. While Taiwan remains closed to foreign tourists, the hotel has run a promotion for domestic tourists to increase occupancy rates.
The first cases linked to the Novotel were confirmed on April 20 – two pilots from Taiwan’s largest carrier, China Airlines. The couple had taken a cargo flight together to American pilots of Other China Airlines, who later tested positive, some of whom had visited bars and restaurants before being confirmed to be carriers of the virus. A hotel housekeeping manager also caught it.
As of May 7, there were 29 known cases – 11 pilots, one flight attendant, six Novotel staff and 11 family members. On that day, Minister of Health Chen Shih-chung announced that the Civil Aviation Administration had fined China Airlines 1 million New Taiwan dollars ($ 35,000) for failing to comply with the measures. government coronavirus prevention program by allowing crew members to stay in an unquarantined facility. .
While one of the Novotel buildings had been designated as a quarantine facility, it had placed pilots and crew members in a second building, which was not the case.
A day later, the Novotel was fined NT $ 1.27 million by the Taoyuan City Public Health Department. This was in addition to a fine of NT $ 150,000 by the Ministry of Transport’s tourism office for accommodating quarantined flight crews in a hotel zone that was not designated for this purpose.
Yang Sen Hong, a public health expert trained at UC Berkeley in Taiwan, said China Airlines and the Novotel had broken the rules and the government-set quarantine for pilots “was too short.”
The government allowed the pilots to have a short quarantine without requiring them to be vaccinated, Yang said. “But if they did not have a vaccination, why can they give them this kind of treatment? “
While many governments have granted shorter isolation periods for pilots, “in Taiwan the situation is not the same because we have locked down” our borders, and there is a risk that infected pilots will spread the virus. , did he declare.
“The Novotel kept these pilots where they could mingle with other people, that’s the problem. Then you’ve got a short quarantine and infected pilots having fun there, so you’ve got the leak, you’ve got the situation now. “
According to a Friday press release from the Taoyuan City Government, a member or members of the public reported in February that the Novotel was “used illegally.” An adviser from the opposition Kuomintang party asked why it took so long to fine the hotel. The city’s tourism department director, Yang Sheng-pin, replied that “some things needed to be clarified further,” adding that it was up to the hotel to show “good management,” the statement said.
Following the increase in the number of cases on Saturday, the outbreak’s Central Command Center raised the alert level in Taipei and New Taipei City to three on a four-level scale. This means people have to wear masks outdoors or face fines of up to NT $ 15,000. Outdoor gatherings of 10 or more people and indoor gatherings of five or more people, unless they live under the same roof, are not allowed, with fines of up to NT $ 300,000.
Cinemas, sports centers, libraries and places of entertainment must close, while restaurants can continue to operate if they put in place adequate social distancing measures and take people’s contact details.
Taiwan would move to level four – a lockdown – if there were more than 100 new cases every day for two weeks.
Over the weekend, people listened to the government’s call to stay at home as much as possible. The streets, restaurants and even parks were quiet, and the subways, usually busy on weekends, had empty seats. But supermarkets were packed as people rushed to stock up on food and toilet paper. On Saturday, many supermarkets began asking customers to write their name and number or scan a QR code and leave their contact details, while staff sanitized the carts.
Taiwan has struggled to get its hands on the vaccines, and until recently the turnout for the first batch arriving in March was low.
“The most important thing is to stay calm,” said Jason Wang, director of the Center for Policy, Outcomes and Prevention at Stanford University.
If the spread of the virus can be limited by people wearing masks, washing their hands and restricting their movement, then there will be “sufficient capacity to identify infected people and their close contacts to test and quarantine them.” , he said.
“If the movements are not well managed, then there will not be enough contact tracing and testing capacity; we’re probably going to see continued outbreaks of new cases for the next month or so, until there is a lockdown, ”Wang said.
As of Friday, Taiwan has set up testing stations in affected areas for people who believe they might be at risk. Yang said that since these stations use rapid test kits rather than the PCR tests that are normally performed, “it is possible that false positives are among [the recent cases]. »
“If so, it makes the rapid spread of the virus less likely,” he said. “The next few days are a period of critical observation. “