by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Multivariable/WikiCommons/CC

THE CENTERS for Disease Control reported no new confirmed cases of COVID-19 today, with today marking the 15th consecutive day in which there were no cases of domestic transmission of COVID-19. Taiwan has had a total of 429 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with six deaths to date, and 290 individuals now released from quarantine.

While Taiwan has seen a number of days in the past two weeks in which there were no new cases of COVID-19, when there have been cases, all of these cases have been imported rather than instances of domestic transmission. Of the total 429 confirmed cases of COVID-19 to date, 343 were imported, while 86 were the result of domestic transmission.

Questions continue, however, about whether COVID-19 cases from three navy ships that returned from Palau could lead to an uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases in Taiwan. 31 crew members of a supply ship, the Panshih, returned from Palau with COVID-19 earlier this month.

The Panshih in 2015. Photo credit: 玄史生/WikiCommons/CC

It remains unclear as to where crew members of the Panshih caught the COVID-19 coronavirus, seeing as Palau currently reports zero COVID-19 cases and no cases have been reported in Palau since the Panshih and other ROC navy ships visited Palau one month ago. Apart from the possibility that Panshih crew members caught COVID-19 while in Palau, some have suggested that the Panshih and other ROC navy ships may have secretly visited other locations, or that crew members were possibly infected before they visited Palau. The 31 cases from the Panshih are currently labeled as the result of domestic transmission.

While the 31 cases from the Panshih resulted in the largest jump in the number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases since late March, the increase in the overall amount of COVID-19 cases in Taiwan is slowing. Taiwan surpassed 400 cases on April 19th with the announcement of the Panshih cases, bringing Taiwan’s total number of COVID-19 cases to 420, but only surpassed 300 cases on March 30th. Taiwan confirmed over 200 cases of COVID-19 one week prior, on March 24th, and its 100th case on March 18th. However, it is feared that travel by sailors from the Panshih before the 744 crew members from the fleet were put into quarantine may have spread the virus, something that could be compounded by increased travel from the upcoming Labor Day weekend.

In the meantime, repatriation efforts for Taiwanese overseas continue, with a charter flight for next month scheduled to repatriate 200 Taiwanese in India. According to government officials, 24 Taiwanese living abroad have died from COVID-19, with at least 85 overseas Taiwanese known to be infected.

App-based efforts to combat the spread of the disease also continue, with the development of an app by the Ministry of Transportation and Communication to allow people to avoid crowded areas released ahead of the Labor Day weekend, and an app by Feng Chia University researchers to help people detect whether they had come in contact with people infected with COVID-19. 

It remains unclear as to whether visa policy will be adjusted going forward. It is possible that the government will offer more visa extensions for foreigners currently in Taiwan, but it is also possible that the Taiwanese government will decide against offering further extensions in light of the fact that some countries are already loosening lockdown regulations. The National Immigration Agency has claimed that an amnesty program for visa overstayers targeted at migrant workers has been successful, citing statistics regarding migrant workers that have willingly turned themselves in.

Photo credit: Solomon203/WikiCommons/CC

While panic about the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus after the Panshih cases led to the cancellation of many events in Taiwan over the past week, because of the lack of domestic transmission cases to date this has led to the loosening of some quarantine regulations. Some individuals under quarantine will be allowed to leave quarantine under supervision for extenuating circumstances, such as attending funerals. Such new regulations were passed likely because most individuals under quarantine are unlikely to have actually contracted COVID-19. 

Economic measures also continue to be rolled out to cope with the spread of COVID-19.  Banks have cut mortgage rates for customers affected by COVID-19 and the Financial Supervisory Commission has announced a loosening of restrictions on banks in order to encourage banks to offer loans to businesses that have taken a hit due to COVID-19. Likewise, the CPC Corporation has announced that it will lower gasoline prices.

In general, the situation in Taiwan continues to be stable. However, many uncertainties continue to remain about the spread of COVID-19, particularly in light of the fact that some countries intend to loosen lockdown regulations in order to restart their economies. This is something that is very likely to affect Taiwan as well.

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