International travelers arriving in Taiwan on long-haul flights have since Tuesday been required to take a polymerase chain reaction test for COVID-19 upon landing, and wait for the results before finishing airport entry procedures.
The policy was implemented after several airport workers were infected with the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, leading to local transmissions and cluster infections over the past two weeks.
The Central Epidemic Command Center on Friday reported that 139 people among 1,837 inbound passengers, or about 7.6 percent, tested positive after landing in the first four days, exceeding the center’s expectation.
The peak of returnees before the Lunar New Year was on Friday, about 4,200 people, followed by about 3,900 yesterday, with arrivals expected to continue causing strain at the border through the holiday period, the center said on Thursday.
The rapidly increasing number of daily imported COVID-19 cases since last month due to Omicron has led to wide public concern regarding the growing risk of local infections, and whether the surge in cases would overwhelm the healthcare system.
Some people blamed those who were returning, or the government for not imposing tighter border measures, such as suspending flights from some countries, or capping the limit on returning citizens.
Non-resident foreigners, with some exceptions, are not allowed into the country, and all people who arrive during the Lunar New Year period are subject to a 14-day mandatory quarantine, irrespective of vaccination status, and must undergo six COVID-19 tests within 21 days of quarantine and self-health management.
However, many unkind comments to returnees can be found on online news and social media, including urging overseas Taiwanese not to return to avoid becoming a “danger” or “burden” to society, and suggesting that they pay their own medical expenses if they test positive after arrival.
A woman earlier this month was reportedly blocked from entering her friend’s vacant apartment for the second part of her quarantine by the building’s management, although she had finished the first part of her quarantine at a hotel for seven days and tested negative. She had to find another hotel.
Another reported situation last month involved managers of an apartment building asking a resident who returned home for quarantine to install a surveillance camera in front of his door, and pay for outsourced disinfection services and the security personnel’s protective equipment.
Many Taiwanese returning home from abroad have expressed frustration and anxiety. Many have said that fast-changing border control measures, discrimination and poor service at quarantine hotels make their return difficult, despite cooperating with quarantine rules.
As international travel has become more complex and difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic, overseas citizens face many challenges — deciding if and when to return home, unexpected quarantine and testing expenses, infection risks during the journey and severely limited movement during quarantine.
It is understandable that people are anxious and fearful about COVID-19, but pointing fingers and stigmatizing law-abiding citizens who just want to safely return to their families hurts society by creating more fear, distrust and anger.
COVID-19 does not discriminate and neither should people. Health officials can help prevent stigma by correcting negative language, sharing accurate information about the disease and calling on the public to have compassion for others. This would build better resilience in the long fight against the virus.
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