Country that beat virus hit again
Scenes of crowded supermarkets, panic buyers and empty streets have returned to Taiwan, despite the country completely eradicating COVID just a few weeks ago.
However in the past week, the 24 million-strong population has been hit with its worst outbreak in 18 months. A record of 180 cases have been confirmed as of May 15, with fears the country is inching towards its first full-scale lockdown.
This brings Taiwan’s total case count to 1290 with a total of 12 deaths. In comparison, Australia – which has a similar population to Taiwan and has been globally applauded for its handling of the pandemic – has recorded 29,927 cases with 910 deaths.
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Based in the country’s capital of Taipei, Asia correspondent for Quartz, Leslie V. Nguyen-Okwu, shared scenes of a grocery store packed with panic buyers just 30 minutes after level three restrictions were announced in Taipei and New Taipei.
“Shelves are empty. Checkout lines are snaking around the building. The wait is 1+ hour and getting longer,” she shared in a tweet
A Facebook post from Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs has also asked residents to avoid stockpiling supplies like toilet paper, instant noodles and canned food.
“Remember that last year many of you bought quite a lot [of toilet paper]. Check your home first to see if you have any,” they wrote.
Under the new restrictions, residents must wear a must at all times when outside the home, with indoor gatherings limited to five and outdoor restrictions limited to 10. Most companies and businesses have also switched to working from home and online learning has resumed for schools.
While cinemas, gyms, bars, clubs, sporting centres and some schools have been closed, food and business outlets are able to continue operating if they’re able to stick to social-distancing rules.
Elsewhere, the majority of Taiwan is under level two restrictions, which limits outdoor gatherings to 500 people and indoor gatherings to 100. Masks must also be worn in public gatherings and entertainment, beauty, fitness and leisure venues have been closed.
Mystery cases puzzling employees
While Taiwan didn’t record a single case of COVID-19 between April and December last year, health authorities are most concerned about the 132 unlinked domestic cases. Earlier this week, the government made the move to quarantine all of the pilots from China Airlines for 14 days after DNA sequencing linked several infections to an outbreak at an airport hotel.
As reported by the South China Morning Post, some of the infected pilots frequented several bars and restaurants in northern Taiwan before their infections were confirmed.
As Taiwanese residents adjust to a spate of new rules, Taiwanese officials have stated they won’t implement an island-wide lockdown until they have to.
Health Minister Chen Shih-chung has confirmed the new level three rules will remain in place until May 28, however authorities may need to implement a level four lockdown if transmissions from unknown sources surpass 100 new cases a day.
Until then, the race is on for Taiwan to stamp out the remaining cases of COVID-19 once again.