Sun, May 11, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Matsu threatens to seal itself off

EXTREME MEASURE The island group will only be sealed off when SARS cases are confirmed in the area and if the disease continues to spread further across Taiwan

By Sandy Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Matsu, one of Taiwan's offshore islands, might consider sealing itself off from the outside world if the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) continues to escalate and when SARS cases are confirmed on the island group, Lienchiang County Government officials said yesterday.

Matsu islands, made up of 19 islets, are governed by the Lienchiang County Government of Taiwan's Fujian Province.

"So far, the Lienchiang County Government has no plan to seal off the island," Lienchiang County government commissioner Chen Hsueh-sheng (陳雪生) said.

"However, [sealing off the island] would be an extreme control and prevention measures we will have to take if the SARS epidemic situation in Taiwan continues to broaden its scope and SARS cases are also reported in Matsu," Chen said.

The island so far still has a record of no reported SARS cases, he added.

Chen said that the idea of sealing off the island was suggested by some local residents, who are anxious about the SARS outbreak in Taiwan.

"These local residents are gravely concerned and harbor a sense of great misgiving that the SARS situation in Taiwan could spill over to the island if not checked in time," he said.

"However, unless extreme circumstances really prompt us to take extreme action, we do not want to resort to sealing off the island," Chen said. "Doing so would cut off our contact with the outside world and this would have a great impact on our economy, which would lead to inconveniences in our daily lives."

To order to strengthen the island's prevention measures against SARS, Chen said that the Lienchiang County Government has advised all visitors from Taiwan, whether via air or passenger steamer, to go into quarantine for 10 days after arriving on Matsu.

"The measure is not yet compulsory although we strongly advise all those visiting us from Taiwan to go in quarantine voluntarily," Chen said.

People traveling from Hong Kong and China via Taiwan are however forced to undertake compulsory quarantine for 10 days (upon arriving on Matsu) in line with the Executive Yuan command.

"Those who violate or neglect the compulsory quarantine order will be fined NT$60,000," Chen said.

He added that the county government had yesterday issued its first fine to a local resident for not complying with the order to stay at home for 10 days.

Chen added that there are approximately 20 people on the island under compulsory quarantine.

Noting the on-going outbreak of SARS in China, Chen said that the county government had recently received orders from the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), to extend the county's "three small links" suspension.

In order to prevent the spread of SARS from China, the MAC on March 31 had ordered the county to temporarily shut its "three small links" for one month. "Given the SARS situation in China as well as Taiwan, the MAC had commanded us to continue suspending the links until further notice," Chen said.

Initiated in January 2001, the "three small links" allow trade links between Taiwan's Kinmen and Lienchiang County and Fujian Province in China.

Fujian is next to Guangdong Province, where the majority of SARS cases have been reported and where the SARS outbreak is believed to have originated.

Kinmen's "small three links" with China remains open for now although Kinmen government officials had noted that the daily passenger flow has declined dramatically since the outbreak of the SARS epidemic.

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