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CECC makes U-turn on mask policy for drivers

Central Epidemic Command Center says solo drivers do not have to wear masks after all

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Lan Hsin-mei. (Facebook, Lan Hsin-mei photo)

Lan Hsin-mei. (Facebook, Lan Hsin-mei photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Central Epidemic Comand Center (CECC) on Friday (May 21) made a U-turn on an official policy requiring motorists to wear masks when driving alone in their cars by saying that masks are required only when there are two or more persons in a vehicle.

As the country continues to report triple-digit coronavirus cases on a daily basis, the CECC declared Wednesday (May 19) that Level 3 restrictions would go into effect on Thursday (May 20). One of the main regulations of this warning level is that "All people must wear masks at all times when going out."

On Thursday, Fashionista Lan Hsin-mei (藍心湄) sparked a debate when she took to Facebook to ask "Is it necessary to wear a mask when driving?" Family medicine specialist Wang Tzu-yun (王姿允) posed the question to the "1999 citizen hotline," which responded by saying that "Since all of Taiwan is under a Level 3 alert, as long as a person goes outside of their home, they must wear a mask."

When the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was contacted for comment via the 1922 hotline, its response was essentially the same, stating Thursday that although the provisions do not clearly stipulate that people must wear a mask while driving, the definition of "going out" is the moment someone leaves their residence.

Therefore, the CDC concluded that people must wear their masks "all the way," regardless of the activity, from the moment they step outside their homes. It pointed out that even when motorists drive alone, there are times when they could come in contact with others, such as if their windows are down at a red light or while refueling.

The CDC pointed out, however, that enforcement of regulations and penalties would vary with the local government. For example, the Taipei City Department of Health stated that if there is only one person in the car and the windows are closed, it is not necessary to wear a mask.

If there are other passengers in the car or the windows are down, Taipei's health department recommends that everyone wear a mask.

New Taipei, Kaohsiung, Hsinchu, and Taichung all followed the central government's guidelines and considered driving to count as "going out." In those cities, drivers were on Thursday required to wear masks regardless of the circumstances.

The CDC said that the penalty for motorists found not to be wearing a mask would be the same for pedestrians, a fine of between NT$3,000 (US$100) and NT$15,000 for violating the Communicable Disease Control Act. However, it stated that fines would also vary from one locality to another.

At a press conference on Friday morning, CECC deputy chief Chen Tsung-yen (陳宗彥) set official policy into reverse by proclaiming that if a motorist is driving alone, they are separated from others and therefore do not need to wear a mask. However, if two or more people occupy a vehicle, they must all wear a mask.