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Taiwan weighing halt to UK flights amid mutant coronavirus strain

Taiwan weighing options as 40 other countries block flights from UK due to new COVID-19 strain

(NIAID image)

(NIAID image)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan is mulling a ban on flights from the U.K. as a new strain of the Wuhan coronavirus rages across that country, and other nations around the world are scrambling to stop it from spreading.

A new strain of the virus, identified as B.1.1.7, has risen in the U.K. and been found to be up to 70 percent more transmissible than the original version that came out of Wuhan, China, last year. On Monday (Dec. 21), the U.K. reported 35,928 new COVID-19 cases, the highest single-day rise seen in the country since the start of the pandemic.

After news broke that the number of countries banning incoming flights from the U.K. has risen to 40, reporters at an event in Taipei on Monday (Dec. 21) asked Minister of Transportation and Communications Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) if Taiwan is considering doing the same. In response, Lin said the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) will discuss restricting flights from the U.K. with the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), which he said will have the final say in the matter, reported Newtalk.

The CAA also stated that the CECC will make the ultimate decision. In response to media questions about blocking flights from the U.K., CECC Spokesman Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥) said at a press conference Monday that the center has yet to detect any cases with the new strain in Taiwan.

Chuang asserted that Taiwan's current epidemic prevention measures such as the mandatory 14-day quarantine and the stringent new mask rules it imposed on Dec. 1 will keep the new strain at bay.

Regarding a report about a Taiwanese couple who claimed to have contracted the strain in the U.K., he said the CECC has not yet confirmed whether they indeed have that strain of the virus. It is also not yet known how the two were infected, as they had very little contact with others, Chuang said.

During a meeting at the Legislative Yuan that same day, Minister of Health and Welfare and CECC head Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) was asked if he planned to bar flights from the U.K. Chen responded that because all visitors, including those flying from the U.K., are required to provide proof of a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and undergo a 14-day quarantine, there are no concerns about the transmission of the new strain, nor are there plans to ban flights from the country, reported Liberty Times.

Update: 12/23 12:20 p.m.

The CECC on Tuesday (Dec. 22) announced that in order to "avoid adverse impacts caused by the developments," the number of passenger flights between Taipei and London will be decreased by 50 percent effective Dec. 23. In addition, beginning that day, passengers arriving in Taiwan from the UK and those who have been in the UK in the past 14 days are required to enter group quarantine facilities, where they will undergo their two-week quarantine upon entering the country.