A requirement that Taiwanese and residents should provide a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for COVID-19 to enter Taiwan is to end on Thursday next week, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said yesterday as it increased the cap for inbound travelers to 40,000 people per week.
“Although the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants [of SARS-CoV-2] are highly contagious, they do not lead to a surge in the rate of severe symptoms,” said Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center. “As such, restrictions on inbound travelers should be eased.”
The purpose of requiring a negative PCR test was to avoid a domestic outbreak caused by people arriving from overseas, which would increase the burden on healthcare providers, Chen added.
However, the government has waived the requirement for Taiwanese, residents and transit passengers for practical reasons, he said.
“Although there has been a significant increase in the number of outbound travelers, most of them are spending only one to two weeks abroad before returning,” he said. “While they are abroad, it might not be easy to locate medical facilities to undergo a PCR test, and other problems arise if they test positive for COVID-19 and are not allowed to board a return flight to Taiwan.”
Despite the end of the PCR test requirement, all travelers returning from abroad must still take a saliva test upon arrival, Chen said.
Civil Aeronautics Administration Director-General Lin Kuo-hsien (林國顯) said that testing capacity would be bolstered.
“We will increase our capacity to process saliva test samples at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport so that 1, 570 passengers can be tested per hour, which should meet demand during peak arrival hours,” Lin said.
Meanwhile, the weekly cap for arrivals was increased to 40,000 from 25,000.
The number of international arrivals has gradually risen due to the summer break and increased economic activity, Chen said.
“Prior to the enforcement of the policy, we had estimated that COVID-19 cases caused by Omicron subvariants could reach 100,000 to 200,000 per day,” Chen said.
“However, while there was a period in May when more than 90,000 cases were reported per day, the daily count has never exceeded 100,000,” he said. “The development of the domestic COVID-19 outbreak has been consistent with our forecasts.”
Lin said that quarantine hotels can accommodate 41,300 people per week, or 55 percent of inbound travelers.
The rest would quarantine at home based on the “one person per residence” principle, Lin said.
To address cases of people contracting the virus after picking up family members returning from abroad, the main airports in Taipei, Taoyuan, Taichung and Kaohsiung have installed electronic scrolling message boards to remind people that they need to observe disease prevention guidelines, he said.
Chen said that excitement might be a factor.
“People might be too excited at seeing family members so they forget that there are risks of contracting the virus by coming in close contact with people returning from pandemic-affected countries,” Chen said, adding that they should observe social distancing guidelines and wear masks.
Asked about quarantine requirements and a possible shift from three days of home quarantine plus four days of self-initiated disease prevention to seven days of self-initiated disease prevention, Chen said that the CECC would “take it one step at a time” over policy changes.
“We understand what people want and would make the best arrangement by closely monitoring the situation,” he said.
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