Taiwan bans large events after small coronavirus outbreak

Taiwan on Tuesday banned large gatherings after a cluster of local infections prompted authorities to raise the coronavirus alert level in a place with one of the world’s best pandemic responses.

The self-ruled island has been hailed as a global leader in containing the Covid-19 pandemic with just 1,210 confirmed cases, 12 deaths and minimal social distancing needed once the initial outbreak was quelled.

Last year Taiwan recorded 253 straight days without any local infections.

But in recent weeks a small but growing outbreak involving the staff of Taipei-based China Airlines (CAL) and a Novotel airport hotel has sparked alarm. 

On Tuesday authorities banned indoor gatherings of more than 100 and outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people until 8 June.

Eating and drinking are now banned on public transport while regular and high-speed trains will stop selling standing tickets from Saturday.

Business venues were also told to strictly enforce epidemic prevention rules, including checking customers for wearing masks and keeping social distance.

“Taiwan has carried out pandemic prevention very well for the past year but we are getting more relaxed or careless as time goes by,” Premier Su Tseng-chang warned.

“I urge everybody to face the new outbreak seriously… so we can maintain our good performance.”

The latest restrictions came after at least 36 people tested positive in the cluster infections, including 13 Taiwanese and foreign pilots, one Taiwanese flight attendant and six hotel workers.

Investigators say the source of 13 cases are still pending categorisation.

A similar cluster centred around a hospital led to the suspension of large-scale Lantern Festival events during the Lunar New year in February.

That outbreak was quickly brought under control.

All CAL pilots and co-pilots will have to quarantine at government facilities over concerns of an “unknown chain of transmission” within the company, under health authority guidelines.