Taiwan will not be “as cruel as China” in imposing lockdowns, the prime minister said on Sunday, despite rising numbers of coronavirus infections.
The self-governing island registered more than 10,000 new cases for the first time on Thursday, as the government moves away from its zero-COVID strategy and begins to live with the virus.
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That figure reached 16,936 on Sunday.
Taiwan’s shift leaves neighboring China — including financial hub Hong Kong — the only major economy still adhering to a zero-tolerance policy, even as Omicron breaches defenses and enforces painful lockdowns.
“We will not shut down the country and the cities as brutally as China,” Prime Minister Su Tseng-chang told reporters before a top government meeting on pandemic prevention.
“Countries around the world have opened up to living with the virus. Taiwan…will continue to lead a normal life and gradually move to a new phase in epidemic prevention,” he said at the meeting.
Su’s sharp remark — whose ruling party is leaning toward Taiwanese independence — comes after years of heightened tension between China and the island, which Beijing considers part of its territory.
Taiwan has largely closed its borders and introduced strict quarantine rules during the pandemic, keeping the number of infections low.
An outbreak last year led to the temporary reintroduction of economically painful social distancing measures until it was under control.
The number of infections is on the rise again, but island leaders have indicated they will follow other former covid-free economies, such as Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, by opening up.
Health Minister Chen Shih-chung warned last week that the daily number of cases in Taiwan could more than double to 37,000 within a week.
But according to Taiwan’s Ministry of Health, more than 99.7 percent of the 89,990 infections recorded since January 1 this year have been mild or asymptomatic.
About 80 percent of the population has been double vaccinated, while nearly 60 percent have taken a third injection.
The government has embarked on a new plan to shorten home isolation for close contacts of COVID-19 cases to three days, down from 10, if a rapid antigen test at the end of the isolation period proves negative.
It is also considering easing the 10-day quarantine rules for foreign arrivals.
Since the start of the pandemic, Taiwan has reported 132,955 cases and 868 related deaths.
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