As COVID-19 cases abate, Taiwan eyes easing restrictions

People wearing protective face masks shop at a market amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Taipei, Taiwan

Taiwan’s Cabinet said on Monday that with COVID-19 cases abating there is room to ease restrictions and ministries and officials should make preparations for doing so, as the island begins emerging from the worst of its pandemic.

Taiwan enacted curbs on gatherings, including closing entertainment venues and limiting restaurants to take out service, in May amid a spike in domestic cases after months of no or few community transmissions.

But with the outbreak stabilising the Cabinet suggested easing those rules.

The Cabinet, in a statement citing comments from Premier Su Tseng-chang, said that with sporadic infections in the community the conditions had not been met to totally lift the level three restrictions, as they are known.

“But, as the epidemic situation in most counties and cities has slowed down, there is room for reasonable adjustments in the control measures for all walks of life and sectors,” it cited Su as saying.

“Relevant departments are requested to plan and prepare in advance,” Su said, adding that any adjustments would be applied islandwide.

The capital, Taipei, has already begun the limited re-opening of its famous night markets, normally a top draw for tourists.

Speaking later on Monday at a daily news conference, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung announced 28 new domestic cases, down from 37 on Sunday.

Taiwan has never gone into a full lockdown, and the key semiconductor industry has been generally unaffected throughout, though its borders remain effectively closed for all but citizens and residents, who must all undergo strict quarantine.

While the outbreak of domestic infections has been small compared with those in many other countries, the government has acted extremely cautiously, isolating suspected contacts and ramping up a testing programme that had initially been slow to roll out.

Almost all domestic cases have been of the previously globally dominant Alpha variant, with a small outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant in southern Taiwan brought under control.

Taiwan has reported 15,061 infections since the pandemic began, including 689 deaths.

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