Taiwan expands hand luggage checks to more Southeast Asian nations

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Hand luggage checks at Taiwan's airport

Hand luggage checks at Taiwan's airport (By Central News Agency)

The hand luggage of travelers arriving from Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar is being inspected at seaports and airports across Taiwan as part of an intensifying effort to prevent the entry of African swine fever (ASF), an official said Wednesday.

The measure was implemented with effect from midnight Tuesday, requiring all passengers on direct flights from Thailand, Cambodia (Phnom Penh) and Myanmar (Yangon) to present their hand luggage for inspection at Customs, given the geographical proximity of those countries to China, where ASF has been raging for months, according to Council of Agriculture (COA) Deputy Minister Huang Chin-cheng (黃金城), who also serves as deputy chief of the National Emergency Operation Center for ASF.

The outbreak of the infectious pig disease in China has shown no signs of abating since it started last August, which has prompted Taiwan to take steps to protect its hog farming industry that has an annual production value of NT$80 (US$2.6 billion).

Taiwan had already implemented 100 percent checks of the hand luggage of all passengers arriving from China, and beginning Feb. 15, it also extended the regulation to travelers from Vietnam after a pork sandwich brought into Taiwan by a passenger from Ho Chi Minh City tested positive for ASF that day.

On Tuesday, Vietnam confirmed its first cases of ASF, becoming the third Asian country, after China and Mongolia, to report the disease.

In response, Taiwan has expanded its penalty against travelers who bring pork products into the country from Vietnam, introducing a fine of NT$200,000 against passengers who flout the regulation for the first time, and NT$1 million against repeat offenders, with effect from Wednesday.

Foreign nationals who fail to pay the fine will be denied entry -- a measure that has been in place for Chinese travelers since December last year.

Meanwhile, late Wednesday, a Chinese woman arriving from Jinan in China's Shandong Province was found to be carrying 168 grams of pork sausage in her checked luggage at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport.

She was denied entry because she refused to pay the NT$200,000 fine and she will remain in a restricted area of the airport until she can depart Thursday, according to the aviation company.

Feng Hai-tung (馮海東), head of the COA's Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine (BAPHIQ), said Taiwan does not import pork or pork products from Vietnam, which is a foot and mouth disease-infected country.

Chiu Chui-chang (邱垂章), head of the COA's Animal Health Research Institute (AHRI), said Taiwan will convene an international meeting March 7-8 on the prevention of ASF, which will be attended by experts from Britain, Russia, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and South Korea.