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Taiwan fears Omicron variant will enter with Lunar New Year returnees

No plans to ban flights from countries with Omicron cases, says CECC

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Travelers at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. 

Travelers at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport.  (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Omicron COVID-19 variant could enter Taiwan by the end of the year as people return to celebrate the Lunar New Year, Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) chief Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said Tuesday (Nov. 30).

While many countries have toughened travel restrictions and quarantine requirements as the latest variant spreads from southern Africa across the world, thousands of Taiwanese are expected to return home ahead of the Jan. 29-Feb. 6 Lunar New Year holiday.

Chen said he could not rule out the Omicron strain entering Taiwan by the end of 2021 but said the CECC would try and stop it at the border and prevent it from affecting local communities, CNA reported. However, there are no plans to ban flights from countries where the variant has been found, he added.

Taiwan has put 10 African nations on a high-risk list, with visitors arriving from those countries having to undergo quarantine at a specialized quarantine center. The visitors will not be eligible for the shortened hotel quarantine program introduced for the Lunar New Year holiday.

Chen said that during the past month, an estimated 200 people from these countries have arrived in Taiwan, including about 190 from South Africa. As European countries impose bans on flights traveling from those nations, the number of passengers transiting in Europe to fly to Taiwan will decline in December, the CECC chief estimated.