TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Amid an uproar over the stay-at-home order imposed on foreign migrant workers in Miaoli County because of COVID-19 infections, officials on Thursday (June 10) announced they will loosen restrictions slightly for caregivers, but factory workers will stay confined to their dormitories and workplaces.
A series of COVID cluster infections among migrant workers at four high-tech companies in Miaoli's Zhunan Science Park has surpassed 300 total cases. In response, Miaoli County Government announced that effective Monday (June 7) all migrant workers were prohibited from venturing out of their residences unless absolutely necessary.
On Tuesday (June 8), police questioned 21 migrant workers who allegedly shirked the stay-at-home order. The Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR) on Wednesday (June 9) condemned the lockdown as discriminatory and called for Miaoli to revoke it immediately.
The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) on Thursday announced that out of 43 new confirmed COVID-19 cases reported that day in Miaoli County, 40 were foreign migrant workers and three were Taiwanese.
During a press conference that afternoon, Miaoli Magistrate Hsu Yao-chang (徐耀昌) said the newest cases were primarily foreign employees of the high-tech companies King Yuan Electronics Corp (KYEC, 京元電子), Accton Technology (智邦科技), and Foxsemicon Integrated Technology Inc. (京鼎電子), Powerchip Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp. (力積電), and Tai Sin Biotechnology Co., Ltd. (台新生物科技).
When asked to respond to criticism that his order for migrant workers not to venture out except to commute to work was excessive, Hsu was cited by RTi as saying that Miaoli County has gone from zero COVID infections to hundreds in a very short period of time. Of those cases, 80 percent are foreign workers:
We are not blaming foreign migrant workers. These [migrant workers] account for nearly 80 percent of [diagnosed cases]. How do you feel about it? What human rights are still being discussed for those who are diagnosed with or even died from the coronavirus? Don’t we all have to work together to deal with pandemic? So I’m really sincere, please everyone, we have the labor restrictions under the so-called Labor Standards Act."
Peng Te-chun (彭德俊), director of Miaoli County's Labor and Youth Development Department, added the number of confirmed cases among migrant workers rose to 305 on Thursday. Peng asserted that this shows infections are mainly occurring among foreign workers at companies.
He reasoned that if strong epidemic prevention measures are not taken to avoid an escalation of community transmission, "I'm afraid the outbreak will become more serious." However, given that foreign caregivers need to be able to go out to accompany their elderly clients when making doctor visits and to pick up prescriptions, the ban on their movements outside has been eased.
Nevertheless, he stressed that even in the case of caregivers, they must not go out "unless absolutely necessary."
In response to the restrictions, a youth group in Miaoli on Tuesday (June 8) created an online petition calling on the Miaoli County Government to put an end to the "unlawful discriminatory action against migrant workers."