Taiwan is tightening coronavirus containment measures to keep out a contagious new strain of COVID-19, just over a week after the country recorded its first case of local transmission since April.
Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) on December 30 barred entry to all foreigners aside from permanent residents, a response to a new COVID-19 variant recently discovered in the United Kingdom.
Taiwanese citizens, residents, and people in a select few other categories will be allowed into the country starting January 1, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said Wednesday.
The Ministry of Education on December 31 ordered Taiwanese schools to stop accepting entry permit applications from international students for at least the next month.
Taiwan has had remarkable success in containing COVID-19, in large part due to its early moves to screen incoming travelers from Wuhan, China and stringent quarantine and facemask regulations. The island has not gone into lockdown and has recorded less than 800 total cases.
On December 21, Taiwan recorded its first local COVID-19 case in over 250 days when a woman in her 30s was infected by a foreign pilot working for EVA Airways.
The pilot, a New Zealand national, tested positive after flying from the United States to Taiwan. He had flouted the airline’s health measures while in the cockpit and refused to wear a facemask, according to his coworkers. EVA Airways fired the pilot after an investigation into his conduct.
The local transmission unnerved the Taiwanese public, who had enjoyed a largely COVID-free life since the last local case on April 12.
Taiwanese authorities tested all known contacts of the woman who was infected. All tested negative.
Taiwan has also recorded two cases of the United Kingdom virus variant, which is believed to be 70 percent more transmissible than other forms of COVID-19. Both cases were recorded in incoming travelers from the United Kingdom.
Chuang Jen-hsiang, spokesperson of the CECC and deputy director-general of the Centers for Disease Control, said on December 31 that Taiwan is not at high risk of more community infections despite the new local case and the emergence of the U.K. variant.
The two people who tested positive for the variant had been removed from the public, Chuang said. One was hospitalized upon arriving in Taiwan, while the other showed symptoms while in home quarantine.
The new cases put a mild damper on New Year’s celebrations, but Taiwan still held celebrations and concerts in Taipei and throughout the country as most of the world prepared to welcome in 2021 from home.
Taiwan’s decision to suspend entry of international students, however, could have consequences for incoming students planning to start their studies in the upcoming spring semester.
Taiwan reopened its borders to international students in August, but initially – and controversially – excluded Chinese students from that decision.
International students currently in Taiwan are being advised not to leave the country as they may not be allowed to return, Ben Chen, vice president for international and Mainland China affairs at Taipei’s Chinese Culture University, told Central News Agency.