Once a Covid Success Story, Taiwan is Now Fighting Its Biggest Outbreak


Widely praised by the world for successfully battling the first wave of the Covid-19 infections for over a year, Taiwan is now fighting its biggest and worst local outbreak yet. Its success in containing coronavirus infections since the start of the pandemic last year is currently in jeopardy.


A democratically-governed island off the coast of China, Taiwan has detected 335 new Covid-19 cases on Monday, May 17th, breaking its previous record for single day transmissions following the record-high of 207 on Sunday. As reported by the island’s Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), with the exception of 2, all cases have been locally transmitted. The vast majority of these new cases are concentrated in the capital Taipei as well as the region surrounding New Taipei City, according to DW.com.


“The island’s current Covid-19 outbreak is relatively small compared to those in other parts of the world, but is an unfamiliar situation for Taiwan, which has until now managed to avoid a serious spike in cases,” CNN maintained. As of right now, Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control has reported a total of 2,017 confirmed cases as well as 12 deaths since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The island had even undergone more than 250 days without a locally transmitted case in 2020, thanks to its strict borderline rules that prohibited almost all non-residents from entering since March of last year, earning Taiwan fifth place on Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking as well as being placed in third for pandemic response by Australia’s Lowy Institute.


With authorities in the process of identifying the sources for this second unexpected wave of outbreak, days of rising case numbers prompted new lockdown measures to be put in place, including the closure of bars, clubs, and gyms as well as the restriction of indoor gatherings in the capital to five people. As specified by California News Times, Taiwanese authorities have also imposed new social distancing requirements and mask mandates outdoors, with those who failed to follow being fined with 3,000 to 15,000 NT dollars (approximately $107 to $535).


On Tuesday, May 18th, it was announced that all schools from kindergarten to high schools in Taipei and New Taipei City will be suspended for two weeks, including the suspension of several local councils. As mentioned in oodaloop.com, Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung has declared the island as “critical condition” if new lockdown measures were not successfully implemented. A number of universities have already transitioned into online classes, with businesses being urged to have their employees work remotely. According to CNN, the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control have released the new measures as a response to “an increasing level of community transmission, shown by cases of unknown sources of infection as well as cluster infections in Taipei City and New Taipei City.”


Taiwanese authorities have “closed its borders to foreign visitors without a residence permit for at least one month,” DW.com states, with Mayor Hou You-yi of New Taipei City raising the city’s alert level on May 17 and warning penalties for those who violate protocols. Tsai Ing-wen, leader of Taiwan, urged residents to follow new guidelines to ensure the safety and health of those around them.


The island’s latest outbreak occurred last month after a Covid case cluster broke out at a quarantine hotel near Taiwan’s airport, DW.com maintains, where airline staff have been quarantined with other visitors in the same building. This was to be followed by local cases emerging in various communities throughout Taiwan in a couple of weeks. The Taiwan Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has so far associated 155 of the 158 new Covid cases in the capital with hostess teahouses, as well as amusement arcades in northeastern Yilan. Within a week, the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases have gone from single to triple digits, resulting in government and health officials urging citizens to stay home and avoid unnecessary travels.


While all incoming travelers to Taiwan were required to quarantine in an effort to slow the spread, the rules have been more relaxed for flight attendants, CNN reported. Despite this, Health and Welfare Minister Chen recently announced that all active pilots on the island will be quarantined for 14 days following the hotel outbreak among flight crews and hotel attendants. According to DW.com, the island is currently in the process of setting up temporary testing stations surrounding the sites of current outbreaks, with health authorities working to increase the number of these locations for the general public. 


The sudden spike of Covid cases in Taiwan raised alarm among residents and prompted many in a rush to receive vaccination, Taiwan’s official Central News Agency (CNA) reported, whereas most government officials and the general public have not felt the urgency of getting vaccinated before this due to the island’s previous success in handling the pandemic. Following weeks of low vaccination rates, local authorities were now concerned about stocks running out within weeks. The island has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the world, with less than 1% of its 23 million-strong population vaccinated, data compiled by CNN revealed. “The elderly, medical personnel and other emergency or high-risk workers, as well as diplomats, police, care workers and some other professions are currently eligible for vaccination under the government program.”


Director of the Center for Global Health in Oregon State University, Chi Chunhuei explained the crisis Taiwan faced in an interview with DW.com, “Most Taiwanese people’s experience of dealing with the pandemic was based on their experience dealing with the first wave of the pandemic from last year. Unlike most countries around the world, they didn’t have the experience of dealing with the variants, including the British variant that is currently circulating across Taiwan.” However, he is optimistic that the island will recover from its second wave of Covid-infections. “I think most Taiwanese people are now refraining from going to restaurants or department stores or using public transportation. I have confidence in most Taiwanese people that they can stick to the regulations during this pandemic,” Chunhuei concluded.