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Exodus: Thousands of Taiwanese flying to US to get vaccinated

Overseas Taiwanese flocking back to US to flee pandemic, get COVID-19 shots

Travelers at Taoyuan International Airport

Travelers at Taoyuan International Airport (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Overseas Taiwanese who returned last year to escape the pandemic are now rushing back to the U.S. to flee the outbreak in Taiwan and get vaccinated.

Airlines in Taiwan reported a sudden surge of passengers booking flights to the U.S. in May as Taiwan saw its worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic and imposed Level 3 restrictions. That month, 2,400 more Taiwanese passengers flew to the U.S. than in the previous month, reported FTV News.

In response to the spike in demand from Taiwanese passengers, EVA Air on Wednesday (June 2) announced it would more than double its flights to Los Angeles from three a week to every day. China Airlines announced that due to a shortage of pilots, instead of increasing the number of flights, it will start using larger jets in its fleet to accommodate the increase in passengers.

Many passengers bluntly said that they were going to the U.S. to get vaccinated, according to the report. Wealthy individuals are reportedly spending NT$7.5 million (US$271,000) each to take private charter jets, with such flights already booked through the end of July.

Even economy seats do not come cheap. Prior to the pandemic, a round-trip ticket on EVA Air from Taipei to Los Angeles during the off-season could be had for as low as NT$20,000. Now, economy seats on the same flight cost more than NT$70,000, premium economy over NT$80,000, and business class NT$200,000.

Whole families are now being seen covered from head to toe in protective gear as they check-in for flights to the U.S. The business and first class sections are also filling up to levels not seen since before the pandemic, with many saying they are taking the costly flights expressly for the purpose of getting the COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S.

"Now that the pandemic in Taiwan is serious, I'm going back to the U.S. for safety. They have vaccines in the U.S. now, so that's why I'm going back. I don't trust Taiwan's vaccines. The domestic vaccines have not passed phase III clinical trials," said one passenger.

Industry insiders said that EVA Air flights to LA are almost fully booked. Many of the passengers taking these flights hold American green cards or are dual citizens.

According to National Immigration Agency statistics, 5,946 passengers flew to the U.S. in April, while in May the number soared to 8,346, an increase of 40 percent. Of these passengers, 80 percent were Taiwanese citizens.