Keep calm, Taiwan says after first local COVID-19 case in eight months

A man wears a protective mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while riding the metro in Taipei, Taiwan

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen called on people on Wednesday to keep calm after the island confirmed its first locally transmitted case of COVID-19 since April 12, as the government announced negative tests so far for the person’s contacts.

Taiwan has kept the pandemic well under control thanks to early and effective prevention methods and widespread mask wearing, with all new cases for more than the last 250 days being among travellers arriving on the island. But the government has been jolted by Tuesday’s announcement of the domestic infection, a lady who is a friend of a New Zealand pilot who was confirmed to have been infected earlier this week. Tsai called on people to remain calm, follow official health guidance and not spread fake news.

“This case has a confirmed source of infection,” she told reporters. “Please don’t panic excessively.”

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung, speaking at a separate news conference, said 170 contacts of the woman had been tested, with results coming back negative, while three others are awaiting test results.

The woman had close contact with the New Zealand pilot, who works for Taiwan’s EVA Airways Corp and was himself confirmed to have been infected on Sunday having flown flights to the United States.

The government has criticised the New Zealand national for not correctly reporting all his contacts and list of places he had been, and for not wearing a face mask when he was supposed to.

The case has ignited public anger in Taiwan, with one television station referring to the pilot as a “public enemy”.

The government in Taoyuan, home to Taiwan’s main international airport, said on Tuesday it would fine the man T$300,000 ($10,653) for not following epidemic prevention rules. Taiwan has reported a total of 777 cases – mostly imported – and seven deaths. Around 130 people remain in hospital for treatment. The government has so far not decided to cancel New Year’s Eve celebrations, which include fireworks in Taipei, but says it will monitor the situation.

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