TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The government sent mixed signals to foreign would-be tourists on Tuesday (July 21) when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) announced it was extending its visa-free treatment to four countries, despite the fact that the ban on foreign arrivals imposed in March of last year is still firmly in place.
MOFA announced in a press release that as part of its efforts to promote the New Southbound Policy, it will extend visa-free entry to nationals from Thailand, the Philippines, Brunei, and Russia from Aug. 1 until July 31, 2022. In addition, it stated that it will continue with its "Project for Simplifying Visa Regulations for High-end Group Tourists from Southeast Asian countries" until Dec. 31, 2022.
However, MOFA acknowledged in the statement that on March 19, 2020, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) banned foreign nationals from entering Taiwan for tourism. The ministry stressed that the extension of visa-free treatment is the continuation of previous policies and does "not indicate an opening-up of Taiwan to foreign tourists amidst the COVID-19 pandemic."
The ministry pledged to continue to "fine-tune" its visa policy in a bid to boost bilateral exchanges and draw more travelers "while still ensuring border and public security." It also vowed to work with other countries on augmenting visa treatment for Taiwanese nationals.
As Taiwan has counted fewer than 100 COVID cases per day for nearly a month and its positivity rate is now only 0.06%, Health Minister and CECC head Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) on Monday (July 19) said it is "highly likely" the Level 3 measures will soon be lowered to Level 2. However, the CECC has yet to give any indication that it will lift the travel ban or provide a timeline for its end.
Only 22% of Taiwan's population has received at least one vaccine dose while the Delta variant of the virus spreads rapidly overseas. From July 6-19, Russia reported 340,587 new COVID cases, while Thailand recorded 125,937 and the Philippines registered 71,650.
With only 21 cases reported during that period, tiny Brunei is the only country that could conceivably be among the first countries to see the travel ban lifted when such an easing of restrictions occurs.