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Taiwan mulling tightened border controls with China amid BF.7 'tsunami'

CECC held meeting on Tuesday to discuss whether to tighten border restrictions with China

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(CDC image)

(CDC image)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) will hold a meeting on Tuesday (Dec. 27) to discuss whether to tighten border control restrictions with China as it suffers a massive surge in COVID cases fueled by new Omicron subvariants not yet widespread in Taiwan.

Last week, the CECC made the controversial decision of reopening the mini-three links (小三通), which refer to postal, transportation, and trade links between the cities of Xiamen, Mawei and Quanzhou in China's Fujian Province, and Taiwan's Kinmen and Matsu islands. During a press conference on Monday afternoon (Dec. 26), CECC head Victor Wang (王必勝) said that Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) had informed him that up to 60% of seats on daily flights from China to Taiwan are still vacant and that Taiwanese businesspeople can fly into the country's four major airports.

Wang pointed out that during the first phase of opening the mini-three links, only residents of the outlying islands of Kinmen and Matsu will be allowed entry into the country. He said that there is one flight arriving at Kinmen per day and no more than two flights coming into Matsu per week.

As for Taiwanese businesspeople, Taiwanese students, or Taiwanese who want to return to Taiwan from China, Wang said that all four of Taiwan's international airports are open for such returnees. He cited the CAA as stating that 30 to 60% of seats are vacant for flights from China to Taiwan to these major hubs, indicating that those who wish to return to Taiwan can easily do so.

When asked by the media whether the CECC would tighten border restrictions for arrivals from China given its tremendous spike in cases, Wang said there are not yet plans to ratchet up border controls. However, he said that the center will convene a team of experts that afternoon to discuss whether adjustments to border controls should be made based on the current situation in China.

Wang pointed out that the main reason for further discussion is the outbreak in China and its surge in COVID cases. In addition, he said that the Lunar New Year is approaching, and many Taiwanese are returning from China. He noted that amid the raging epidemic in China, it is likely that Taiwanese living there will be infected.

Wang observed that the number of cases arriving from China over the past two weeks has increased. Therefore, Wang said, that the CECC needs to closely monitor the incoming cases from China and discuss appropriate measures.

Hwang Kao-pin (黃高彬), a professor at China Medical University in Taichung City, last week was cited by ETtoday as saying that Taiwan should impose a three-day quarantine for arrivals from China through the mini-three links because the BF.7 subvariant has such a high R number, where one case can infect as many as 18 people. Hwang said that China will usher in an "epidemic tsunami" because BF.7 has a shorter incubation period, stronger immune escape ability, and faster transmission.

According to what are purportedly minutes leaked from the Dec. 21 meeting of China's National Health Commission there were nearly 37 million COVID cases reported on Dec. 20, while the total number of infections from Dec. 1-20 was 248 million people, accounting for 17.56% of the total population. Reuters on Dec. 22 cited U.K. health data research firm Airfinity, estimating that 5,000 people are likely to die from COVID per day in China.