After months of queries, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) on Friday finally confirmed that more COVID-19 border control measures would soon be lifted, along with quarantine requirements for international travelers.
As the tourism industry pushes for the removal of entry quarantine and the ban on group tours, as well as increasing the cap on the number of inbound travelers, the CECC in the past week said the plans are being discussed, but would only be implemented after local COVID-19 cases begin to drop.
The spread of the Omicron BA.5 subvariant of SARS-CoV-2 has led to a surge in new COVID-19 cases since last month, with the daily local caseload growing from an average of about 21,000 to 40,000 cases in the past week.
Deputy Minister of Health and Welfare Victor Wang (王必勝), who heads the CECC, on Friday said the peak of the local BA.5 outbreak is expected in the upcoming week or the next, and new daily cases could start to decrease by early next month.
However, a chart of “suggestions for border control and reopening” from an unknown source began circulating online on Thursday, suggesting the reopening would be in two phases. The first phase would be announced tomorrow and take effect on Sept. 26, while the second phase would be announced on Oct. 3 and take effect on Oct. 10.
According to the chart, the entry quarantine rule would remain “3+4” — three days of quarantine and four days of “self-disease prevention” — but revised to allow “one person per room” in the first phase. The quarantine rule would be scrapped and replaced with a “0+7” policy — seven days of “self-disease prevention” — in the second phase.
The chart also indicated that suspended visa waiver programs for foreign nationals would be fully restored in the first phase and the ban on group tours would be lifted in the second phase. The cap on inbound travelers would be raised to 60,000 people per week in the first phase and increased to 20,000 people per day in the second phase, while airport arrival testing would be removed in the first phase.
When asked about the chart, Wang on Friday confirmed that a plan is being discussed, but the dates and details are subject to change, adding that a “0+7” policy is unlikely to be imposed early next month.
Japan raised its daily arrival cap to 50,000 this month and lifted a mandatory negative pre-arrival test. The country is planning to remove most COVID-19 restrictions for foreign visitors next month, including restoring visa waivers for triple-vaccinated travelers, allowing them to travel without being part of a tour group and scrapping the arrival cap.
The CECC has been trying to prepare for the BA.5 outbreak and the border reopening by urging the most vulnerable to stay up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccinations. Yet supplementary measures need to be decided and communicated with the public.
As international tour guidelines require tour participants to wear a mask, the CECC needs to consider relaxing the local mask mandate, or how to attract foreign visitors while ensuring they follow the mask rules. Appropriate care options for travelers should they catch COVID-19 while traveling in Taiwan must also be considered. Preparation for the return of quarantine hotels to their pre-pandemic operations and supporting local businesses to welcome non-Mandarin-speaking travelers must begin.
While it is exciting for many to learn that the long-awaited border reopening is finally in sight, government agencies must cooperate to find a balance between welcoming foreign tourists and reducing COVID-19 risks. They must clearly explain the policies to the public as soon as possible.
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