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Taiwan's strict new mask rules kick in today

Masks must be worn in eight types of public venues, including bars and indoor pools

Police inspecting hostess bar in Taichung. (Taichung government photo)

Police inspecting hostess bar in Taichung. (Taichung government photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — As one of its strict new measures to prevent the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus during autumn and winter, Taiwan is implementing strict new mask regulations for eight types of venues that come into effect on Tuesday (Dec. 1), with violators facing fines of up to NT$15,000.

On Nov. 18, Minister of Health and Welfare and CECC head Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) announced that starting Dec. 1, masks will be mandatory in eight categories of places, including healthcare facilities, public transportation, places of consumption, places of learning, sports and exhibition venues, entertainment venues, houses of worship, and offices and business venues. Chen said that those who fail to wear masks in these contexts and do not heed requests to do so will face fines of between NT$3,000 (US$105) and NT$15,000 for violating the "Communicable Disease Control Act" (傳染病防治法).

Of the eight categories listed, entertainment venues will present challenges for observance and enforcement of the mask rule. Places listed in this category include crowded, enclosed spaces where alcohol is served such as bars, KTV bars, hostess bars, nightclubs, dance halls, and wine shops.

Chen explained that there is a high risk of infection and transmission in the above places, as it is difficult to maintain social distancing and avoid close contact with others. Therefore, the masks can not only help prevent COVID-19 but also protect against other kinds of diseases transmitted by droplets.

If there is a need to eat or drink in the above settings, masks can be temporarily removed on the condition that a proper social distance is maintained or that appropriate barrier equipment is in place. In the case of outdoor venues where large crowds gather or at large-scale outdoor events, the CECC advises the proprietors and management to control crowds based on the number of people.

Taiwan's strict new mask rules kick in today
Police inspecting hostess bar in Taichung. (Taichung government photo)

Among the more controversial venues covered by the mask rule are indoor swimming pools. Chen joked that "Of course you can't wear a waterproof mask when swimming."

He said that in the case of indoor swimming pools, people would be expected to wear a mask when not swimming. Likewise, he said that in fitness centers and saunas, "You don't need to wear a mask when using the equipment, but you should wear it afterward."

Another contentious type of venue announced was KTV bars, prompting many Taiwanese netizens to complain that singing with a mask on would ruin one of the country's most popular pastimes. During a press briefing on Nov. 19, a reporter asked CECC Spokesman Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥) whether masks would have to be worn at all times in entertainment venues without exception.

Citing KTVs as an example, Chuang responded that a mask must be worn when entering the lobby of a KTV bar, where there are large numbers of strangers. However, once a person enters their room, and if only relatives or friends they see regularly are inside, they can "relax a little" and take the masks off.

In the event that there are strangers in the room, masks must be worn, said Chuang. He reiterated that they must also be worn in common areas like lounges and lobbies.

Chen said the basic principle to follow is that if someone is in an indoor place with people they do not usually come in contact with, they should wear a mask. However, he said schools and cram schools are exempt from the new mask requirement because students and teachers in those settings come in contact with the same people each day.

CECC Deputy Chief Chen Tsung-yen (陳宗彥) said that once business owners find that people are not wearing masks in accordance with the regulations, they can try to persuade them. If their words go unheeded, they can record a video or report to the police.

Regarding night markets, Chen Shih-chung said that although these are outdoors and well-ventilated, they can become quite crowded. Therefore, he also recommends wearing a mask when visiting night markets and trying not to eat while walking through the market — otherwise night market management will implement crowd control restrictions.

The following are the eight types of venues where masks are required starting Dec. 1:

1. Healthcare facilities

Hospitals, clinics, and other facilities where large numbers of patients are kept in tight quarters indoors

2. Public transportation

Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR), Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA), mass rapid transit (MRT), and other public transportation systems

3. Places of consumption

Malls, shopping centers, supermarkets, and other areas where consumers congregate, with the exception of restaurants

4. Places of learning

Libraries, community colleges, training programs, and study centers, with the exception of K-12 schools and cram schools

5. Sports and exhibition venues

Cinemas, stadiums, gymnasiums, activity centers, performance venues, art galleries, museums, indoor skating rinks, indoor swimming pools, amusement parks, and children’s playgrounds

6. Entertainment venues

Cruise ships, bars, KTV bars, hostess bars, dance halls, MTV clubs, night clubs, massage parlors, fitness centers, fitness and leisure centers (including massage services and saunas), pool halls, bowling allies, and video game arcades

7. Houses of worship

Temples, churches, and funeral homes

8. Offices and business venues

Banks, insurance companies, credit cooperatives, and post offices