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Tomb Sweeping travel could bring surge in COVID cases to Taiwan

Just 1 in 1,000 Taiwanese infected with COVID, less than 50% have had third COVID shot

People pray during Tomb Sweeping Festival in 2021. 

People pray during Tomb Sweeping Festival in 2021.  (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) on Thursday (March 31) acknowledged that a new wave of COVID cases could emerge from the upcoming Tomb Sweeping Festival.

CECC head Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) announced 87 local COVID cases, the most in nine months. Chen also confirmed 152 imported cases, the most reported in a single day since the start of the pandemic.

The Keelung Yinghe Snack Bar cluster saw the largest increase with 22 cases, followed by 13 at a technology factory in New Taipei, 10 at the Datan Power Plant in Taoyuan City, nine from a wedding banquet cluster in Taichung City, four from a family cluster in Taitung County, and four from a dance teacher cluster that encompasses Taoyuan City and Yilan County.

As the Tomb Sweeping Festival is a long weekend running from Saturday to Tuesday (April 2-5) a reporter asked whether the outbreak will intensify in multiple locations during the holiday. Chen responded by saying "there is such a possibility" because every time there are such long holidays, people will tend to travel and gather together more.

Chen said it is very important to maintain medical capacity and the handling of mild and severe cases has gradually improved. He said the CECC is hoping to reduce the load on hospitals as much as possible by having mild cases stay in quarantine centers instead.

He added that "living with COVID" is an international situation, with some countries having a population infection rate of more than 20%. In contrast, Taiwan's current infection rate is less than one in 1,000, and there are still measures to control the outbreak.

CECC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) convener Lee Ping-ing (李秉穎) said that Taiwan's local outbreaks do not constitute a large epidemic. Lee stressed that Taiwan must first first reduce severe domestic cases and mortality rates before loosening restrictions.

He also pointed out that less than 50% of the population has received their third COVID vaccine dose so far. He then strongly urged the public to quickly go ahead and get vaccinated.