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Coronavirus

Taiwan tightens COVID-19 curbs amid surge in domestic cases

Published: Updated:

Taiwan raised its coronavirus alert level on Saturday in the capital, Taipei, and the city around it, bringing curbs for a period of two weeks that will shut many venues and restrict gatherings in the wake of 180 new domestic infections.

The new rules will not mean offices, schools or restaurants have to close, but will cause the shutdown of cinemas and other entertainment spots, while limiting family get-togethers to five people indoors and 10 outdoors.

Read the latest updates in our dedicated coronavirus section.

For the first time, masks will have to be worn outdoors.

Taipei’s government has already ordered bars, nightclubs and similar venues to shut.

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said a “level of risk” in certain hot spots, such as Taipei’s gritty Wanhua district, had spurred the decision to raise the alert level.

“Only by doing this can infections be dealt with and controlled,” he told reporters.

President Tsai Ing-wen’s spokesman said she would reduce the number of “unnecessary meetings” or public events. The presidential office is close to Wanhua.

The rising community infections unnerved the stock market this week, but at the same news conference, Premier Su Tseng-chang reiterated that the island’s economic fundamentals remain good.

Deputy Finance Minister Frank Juan told Reuters authorities would watch market reaction on Monday, adding that he did not rule out calling a meeting of the National Stabilization Fund, which the government can use to smooth large fluctuations.

Investors should act rationally, he said, pointing out that only a few sectors would be affected by the curbs, such as tourism, rather than the island’s crucial foreign trade.

The new restrictions do not apply to the chip-manufacturing hub of Hsinchu, and are unlikely to affect exports of semiconductors, a global shortage of which has shut some car factories.

Taiwan has millions of vaccine doses on order from Moderna Inc and AstraZeneca Plc, though only a small number have arrived from the latter. More vaccines will start arriving next month, Tsai has said.

Since the pandemic began, Taiwan has reported fewer than 1,500 cases among a population of about 24 million, most of them imported from abroad, but a recent rise in community transmissions has spooked residents.

The island has never gone into a full lockdown and its people are used to life carrying on near normal, despite the pandemic ranging in many other parts of the world.

Late on Friday, several universities, including the elite National Taiwan University, said they would immediately switch to remote learning, telling students to stay away from campuses.

Museums in Taipei, and the zoo, said they would shut too.

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