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End of Taiwan quarantine 'possible' in early October: CECC head

Next two weeks critical in determining whether CECC can end quarantine in early October

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Miramar Entertainment Park. (Taiwan Tourism Bureau photo)

Miramar Entertainment Park. (Taiwan Tourism Bureau photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The head of the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) on Wednesday (Sept. 21) said that it is "possible" that the tentative goal of ending mandatory quarantine for inbound passengers could be achieved in early October, depending on the situation with the local outbreak in the coming two weeks.

The CECC reportedly convened a panel of experts to discuss epidemic prevention policies on Sept. 14 and participants pointed out that given the positivity rate of overseas arrivals is only 3.69%, the center should quickly start to prepare for an end to quarantine under the "0+7" scheme within a month. A memo circulating among government agencies that marks the end of Taiwan's quarantine on Oct. 10, Taiwan's National Day, has been leaked to the public, but the CECC emphasized that these dates are tentative and subject to change.

On Wednesday, CDC Director-General Chou Jih-haw (周志浩), head of the CECC’s disease surveillance division, announced 46,673 COVID cases for the day. He said that compared to the 49,000 cases reported the same day last week, cases decreased by about 6%.

As businesses and tour agencies lobby the government to open up the country by ending quarantine restrictions, CECC head Victor Wang (王必勝) said that epidemic prevention policy must strike a balance between control of disease and the economy. He said that when the situation with the outbreak allows, the strategy for lifting border restrictions will be robust and open, and that plans are under discussion.

Currently, Taiwan is enforcing the "3 + 4" scheme, under which arriving passengers must undergo three days of quarantine followed by four days of self-health monitoring. The principle of "one person per household" must be followed during the quarantine phase, while travelers can switch to "one person per room" during the four days of self-health monitoring.

Chen Hsiu-hsi (陳秀熙), a professor at National Taiwan University's College of Public Health, was cited by CNA as saying that on-arrival saliva testing should be replaced with rapid antigen tests to reduce the workload of airport epidemic prevention staff. Wang concurred that when border controls are eased and the number of arriving passengers increases, the saliva test will cause the wait to be too long.

On Tuesday (Sept. 20), Wang mentioned that over the past two days, there have been intensive discussions on implementing the "0 + 7" program, in which inbound passengers would no longer need to enter quarantine and instead would implement seven days of self-health monitoring. Wang said the focus of the discussion is on the implementation and timetable for its launch.

The CECC head said that the implementation of the new formula will be closely dependent on the situation with the local outbreak. Wang stated that it will be necessary to observe when the current wave of BA.5 cases reaches its peak, and it will only be possible to start the border entry scheme when cases clearly subside.

On Wednesday, Wang reiterated that the loosening of border restrictions involves various ministries and committees, which are all engaged in active discussions on the matter. Although the number of cases has dropped for two consecutive days compared to the same period last week, Wang said that the magnitude is not large enough to determine whether the peak of the epidemic has passed and that the trend is downward.

When further pressed on a timeframe for ending the quarantine requirement, Wang said if the center has decided to open the borders, it will first make an announcement in advance before implementing it. He said that at present, there do not appear to be major problems in lifting restrictions in the month of October.

As for whether quarantine will end in early October as reports suggest, Wang said "early October is also possible," depending on the changes with the outbreak.