Exclusive | UK family separated by quarantine heading to Taipei

The Macfarlane's family was contacted by local police three times in one day because of connection issues with their phones. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Macfarlane)

TAIPEI (The China Post) — Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Ministry of Health and Welfare has issued a mandatory 14-day quarantine for travelers entering Taiwan.

Contrary to all expectations, a surprising “sub-policy” regarding local quarantine regulations came into light on Wednesday when a visiting British professor, Bruce Macfarlane, learned out of the blue that he had to undergo his mandatory quarantine separated from his family.

Professor Macfarlane told The China Post that he arrived from the U.K. on June 26 with his wife and two kids, aged 1 and 4.

They knew about the mandatory 14-day quarantine prior to departure and followed all necessary measures, including sharing a designated taxi to their hotel in Kaohsiung, Macfarlane said.

Upon arrival, however, Macfarlane learned that they weren’t allowed to stay in the same hotel room from some obscure “health policy reasons.”

Macfarlane was baffled by the announcement as they traveled altogether to Taiwan.  Separating them during quarantine is meaningless, he emphasized, locked one room away from his loved ones in the same Kaohsiung hotel.

The Macfarlane family is pictured in this undated file photo. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Macfarlane)

His wife, who is of Taiwanese origin, did try to address the administrative quandary with local officials and Kaohsiung police while caring for their two young children on her own, but to no avail, he continued.

The psychological effect of the quarantine proved to be immense as Macfarlane’s children are left bewildered and confused by the sudden separation, and Macfarlane himself is unable to assist his wife in taking care of his children.

The situation was not helped by the tracking mobile phone system, which allegedly experienced a certain technical glitch, leading local police to visit the hotel room of Macfarlane’s wife and kids at 7 a.m. on Wednesday, creating unnecessary stress.

There have been no previous incidents of forcibly separating family members during their Taiwan quarantine, so one can’t help but wonder if assumptions regarding the Macfarlane family’s dual nationality is linked to health authorities’ unorthodox decision.

Though unsatisfied with this ordeal and the handling of the situation, Macfarlane stressed that he still has “every respect for Taiwan, its government and people and is honored to be a visiting professor at one of the universities.”

“However, this matter is a cause of deep distress,” Macfarlane said, expressing hopes that this “separation policy” could be better explained or resolved by health authorities so that no more families have to endure the same traumatic experience.

“At 12:37 a.m., the police came yet again and woke up my wife and two children, making it the third time in one day!” Macfarlane said.

To Macfarlane, the visits are now bordering on harassment, and with the same explanation given again and again with no change, he wants answers. 

The China Post reached out to CECC spokesperson Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥) on this pressing issue. The latter said that the quarantine separation aimed at avoiding the possibility of inter-transmission of the virus amongst family members, should one of them is infected by COVID-19.

In addition, Chuang said that parents can request for one parent to stay with one child to better take care of them. Families can also request to stay together during quarantine, but because of the risk, would need to submit a waiver form to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, he added.

As for the numerous visits from the police, Chuang blamed the bad cellphone reception within the hotel room, which resulted in a disconnected signal that alerted the police.

After checking up on the family, Chuang said that the CECC will assist Macfarlane’s family who has decided to head to Taipei today and to stay with Macfarlane’s mother-in-law for the rest of the quarantine period.

Kaohsiung Police visited them again on June 2 at midnight. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Macfarlane)