Taiwan mulls denying entry to priority list business travelers

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung shows a chart explaining the development of the COVID-19 outbreak in Australia during Wednesday's briefing. (Photo courtesy of the CECC)

TAIPEI (CNA) — Taiwan may soon close its doors to incoming business travelers from Japan, South Korea, and Australia because of new coronavirus COVID-19 spikes in those countries, according to the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) Wednesday.

The countries are on a list of 15 countries that Taiwan deems low or low-to-moderate risk, allowing its incoming business travelers to shorten the length of their mandatory 14-day quarantine to only five and seven days after arrival, respectively, if their self-paid COVID-19 test is negative.

At a press briefing, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who also heads the CECC, said Australia, which is currently classified as low-risk, is being closely watched and a decision to possibly remove its classification will be made in two weeks because of rising new cases since July 1.

Australia saw a decline in new cases due to strict measures that were implemented on March 30, and conditions were relatively stable from the end of April to the end of May, Chen said.

However, when Australia started loosening restrictions in June, there was a surge of cases, with the metropolitan Melbourne area placed back under lockdown Wednesday, Chen said.

The country has recorded a total of 8,755 cases, including 199 new infections on July 7, with 191 occurring in Victoria, where Melbourne is the state capital, according to statistics provided by the Australian Government’s Department of Health.

Similar spikes in new cases in Japan and South Korea, classified as low-to-moderate risk, mean they will also be closely watched with possible adjustments to be made to their classifications in two weeks, Chen said.

“The surge in new cases has raised concerns so they are now being watched,” Chen said.

The shortened quarantine applies to business travelers who have received permission to enter Taiwan, plan to spend less than three months in the country, and are visiting to conduct short-term business activities such as product inspections, after-sales service, technical training or contract-signing, Chen said at an earlier press briefing on June 17.

They must also have departed from a country or zone classified by the CECC as having a low or low-to-moderate COIVD-19 infection risk and must not have traveled to any other countries in the past 14 days, Chen said.

The latest CECC list of low risk countries and zones published on July 1 includes New Zealand, Macau, Palau, Fiji, Brunei, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Thailand, Mongolia, Bhutan, Australia, Laos, and Cambodia.

It also classified South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka as low-to-moderate risk countries.

Taiwan opened its doors to business travelers from low and low-to-moderate risk countries on June 22, with the list updated every two weeks to reflect the latest developments.

Taiwan has banned entry to most foreign nationals since March 19 to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, with the exception of those who hold an Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) or documents proving they are in Taiwan for diplomatic, other official purposes, or to fulfill business contracts.

Taiwan has been gradually easing its COVID-19 restrictions since June 7, when it recorded 56 straight days without any domestically transmitted infections.