Taiwan to soon start checking luggage of all travelers from Thailand

TAIPEI (CNA) – Customs checks of all luggage brought into Taiwan by passengers from Thailand will be implemented before the end of March as part of the government’s efforts to prevent the entry of African swine fever (ASF), an official said yesterday.

Thailand is the latest to be added to a growing list of countries and areas that Taiwan authorities see as potential sources of the ASF virus, according to Huang Chin-cheng (黃金城), the deputy chief of the National Emergency Operation Center for ASF.

Since outbreaks of ASF were confirmed in China and Vietnam, Taiwan has been stepping up its efforts to prevent the entry of pork and pork products and protect its NT$80 billion-a-year (US$2.59 billion) pig farming industry.

Currently, all luggage brought in by travelers from China, Hong Kong, Macao, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar are subject to Customs checks at Taiwan ports of entry, according to the Council of Agriculture (COA).

At the main gateway Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, 200 airport police officers have been mobilized to check the hand baggage of passengers from those countries, Feng Hai-tung (馮海東), director-general of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine said at an international symposium in Taipei.

Currently, passengers on 40 percent of the flights arriving at the Taoyuan airport are required to submit to those checks, he said, adding that the ratio will increase to 60 percent when Thailand is put on the list of countries targeted for 100 percent luggage checks.

In each case, Taiwan has to give the country notice before implementing the luggage checks, which means the checks of luggage from Thailand will not begin until around the end of March, Feng said.

The decision to add Southeast Asian countries to the list came after an outbreak of ASF in Vietnam in February, according to Huang, who expressed worry about the spread of the pig disease to neighboring countries, saying that in some areas the efforts against ASF were inadequate.

Meanwhile, at Thursday’s international symposium, Dirk Pfeiffer, a professor of Veterinary Epidemiology at University of London, urged Taiwan authorities to stay alert despite recent reports that the ASF outbreak in China was under control.

Pfeiffer said that while Taiwan, South Korea and China have the capability and resources to prevent the spread of ASF, they cannot cover all bases as the virus knows no borders.

Hosted by National Taiwan University, the international symposium was attended by epidemic prevention experts from the United Kingdom, Russia, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and China.

There were four Chinese representatives at the symposium but they did not make any comments, according to the organizers.

Since the first confirmed case of ASF was reported in China’s Liaoning Province last August, Taiwan has been on high alert, worried that the spread of the virus could wipe out its lucrative pig farming industry.

By Yang Su-min and Chung Yu-chen