TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — As the first day of a ban on foreign visitors went into effect on Thursday (March 19) the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (TPE) was swarmed with thousands of foreign passengers confused about their eligibility to enter the country and bewildered by the new quarantine policy.
During a press conference held on Wednesday morning, Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) announced that all foreign nationals will be barred from entering Taiwan, with the exception of persons holding an Alien Resident Certificate (ARC, 居留證), diplomatic officials, and businesspeople with special entry permits, effective on Thursday.
Later that same day in Taipei, Director-General Phoebe Yeh (葉非比) of the foreign ministry’s Bureau of Consular Affairs clarified that foreigners holding a visitor or landing visa must leave the country before their visas expire. The only exception would be "force majeure" (unforeseeable circumstances that prevent an individual from fulfilling a contract), such as a national disaster or serious illness.
Many foreigners were not aware of the sudden policy change and the 12 a.m. March 19 deadline. By Thursday morning, many foreigners were landing at TPE unaware that they could no longer enter the country with visa-exempt status.
French tourist (left). (CNA photo)
By noon on Thursday, over 5,000 tourists had arrived at TPE, with a total of 8,800 anticipated for the whole day, according to the Taoyuan International Airport Corporation (TIAC). Both Taiwanese and foreign passengers were funneled into the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) checkpoints at T2 and T1 where they filled out health declarations, causing long lines to form.
When it came to immigration, some foreign nationals were turned away if they failed to qualify for any exemptions to the ban. For example, a French tourist told CNA that he was caught off guard by the new policy right after he had completed a visa run to Singapore to extend his 90-day visa-free entry.
He said that he had left all his luggage with a friend in Taiwan and packed light when he flew to Singapore. When the airline asked him if wanted to return to Singapore, he said no and that he would contact his friends in Taiwan to figure out how to deal with the situation.
Passengers filling out health declarations at CDC checkpoint. (CNA photo)
Meanwhile, a British man found himself being denied entry because although his flight from the UK had left before the deadline, his flight out of Singapore was delayed, resulting in him arriving after the deadline, according to CNA. He was noticeably distraught by his predicament, as he had arrived to join his Taiwanese wife and their child.
Fortunately, after his airline explained the situation to the National Immigration Agency (NIA), they agreed to allow him to enter the country on the basis of his departure time from London. His wife could be heard cheering from his phone for joy after the problem was resolved.
In addition, as a 14-day quarantine rule went into effect for all arriving passengers, lines over 100 meters formed behind the special taxis selected to ferry passengers to their quarantine locations. At least 300 quarantine taxis were dispatched to the scene to pick up passengers.
Foreign national being sprayed with disinfectant at taxi stand. (CNA photo)
One passenger, a 30-year-old Singaporean man who had just arrived from Okinawa, told Taiwan News that he was very concerned about the way passengers were crammed together as they waited in a narrow corridor to fill out their health declarations. He said he feared that there was a "high possibility of someone being infected and spreading it to others."
Hel then said that during his entire trip to Taiwan, "This queue to CDC checkpoint was the part with the highest chance of potential exposure."
He said that people should have been advised to keep a specific distance from each other. He also recommended a fast-track option to minimize waiting time.
The man then emphasized that other than the bottleneck at the CDC, "The process was smooth, and I want to stay thank you to Taiwanese government for doing all it possibly can be done in order to keep COVID19 cases in Taiwan to a minimum, and I am more than happy to undergo 14-day quarantine which I am doing currently at home."
Below is a video shot by the Singaporean passenger while waiting in line for the CDC checkpoint:
@Taiwan_CDC PLEASE do something about these queues to CDC checkpoints and taxi stand at #Taouyan, Taiwan— Sky (@famouslabs) March 19, 2020
We all fear that #COVID19 can be airborne in confined spaces, yet you let everyone stay close to each other.
That place was FULL of people in from all over the world pic.twitter.com/b892oymbrU