President has no plans to declare state of emergency: Taiwan presidential office

Critics say government's travel ban on Taiwanese contradictory to constitution

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Presidential Office Spokesperson Xavier Chang.

Presidential Office Spokesperson Xavier Chang. (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has no plans to declare a state of emergency for the moment, as the country’s health authorities have stepped up measures in an attempt to contain the climbing cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Taiwan.

“Currently, there is no plan for the president to issue emergency decrees,” said Presidential Office Spokesman Xavier Chang (張惇涵) on Wednesday (March 18). With regard to the foreign travel ban on students and teachers between the elementary and high school levels, which was imposed by the Central Epidemic Command Center as a response to curb imported cases of viral infection, Chang said existing laws have rendered legitimacy to the policy.

Taiwan has confirmed more than 50 coronavirus cases in the past two weeks, most of which are imported cases of Taiwanese traveling overseas to nations heavily impacted by the pandemic. Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) on Monday (March 16) said the travel ban would last until the end of the semester, but critics have since expressed concern that the policy might contradict the constitution, which guarantees people the freedom of residence and of change of residence.

On the other hand, a number of lawmakers and municipal governors, such as New Taipei Mayor Hou Yu-ih (侯友宜), have urged the president to declare a state of emergency. Such a declaration will give the government power to impose more restrictions on the public, including the contentious travel ban.

Emergency decrees will be issued only when there is a lack of legitimacy for necessary disease prevention measures the government has decided to carry out, said Chang. He stressed that current measures, including the travel ban, abide by either the special act for the coronavirus control efforts, which was passed by the legislature last month, or the Communicable Disease Control Act.

Article 43 of the constitution stipulates that in the case of a natural calamity, an epidemic, or a national financial or economic crisis that calls for emergency measures, the president may issue emergency decrees, proclaiming such measures as may be necessary to cope with the situation. Nevertheless, the decrees shall be presented to the legislature for confirmation within one month after the president’s declaration.

After martial law was lifted in 1987 following nearly 40 years of implementation, the Taiwanese government has only issued an emergency decree once. It took place after the island nation was struck by a magnitude 7.3 earthquake in 1999, which was later known as the Chi Chi earthquake.