Taipei’s mayor has announced the indefinite closure of bars, cafes, restaurants and entertainment venues from midnight on Friday after Taiwan reported 29 new community transmission cases of Covid-19, its highest single-day figure since the pandemic began, including seven with no known source.
Business closures were announced by local governments in the capital and in other northern counties in response to the growing outbreak in those areas, going beyond national restrictions set by the central government.
“The outbreak continues to widen so we have to upgrade the pandemic prevention measures,” said the Taipei mayor, Ko Wen-je. “But we urge residents not to panic. We had kept the pandemic under control effectively in the past year but we may have become too relaxed. We need to be vigilant again and we can still bring it under control.”
Other local authorities announced measures including the closure of an outpatient clinic at a Songshan hospital and the closure of various hospitality and entertainment venues from midnight in Taoyuan, Keelung and Hsinchu, local media reported.
The Taiwan Centers for Disease Control said 16 new cases were linked to teahouses and hostess bars in the Wanhua neighbourhood in Taipei. One was linked to a cluster in Yilan and five to a cluster in New Taipei.
Most of the people affected are in their 50s and 60s, the youngest is 10 and the oldest in their 70s. Several are teahouse employees.
Authorities said they were focusing on the health response and did not intend to arrest sex workers, local media reported.
Rapid testing stations will be set up in the Wanhua area, the first time Taiwan has used such a measure. Ko said immigrants who were in the country illegally would not be targeted at testing stations, and he encouraged everyone in the area to present for screening.
“Medical treatment is a human right. I guarantee that administrative units will not arrest or repatriate during the inspection,” he said.
Taiwan has kept itself free of major Covid outbreaks so far in the pandemic, but the rise in case numbers has prompted widespread fear. Taiwan is on level 2 of a four-level alert system.
There was high concern over two clusters in the counties of Taoyuan and Yilan, which did not have a known link for several days. The outbreak has since expanded to include New Taipei, Taipei and Changhua, in central Taiwan.
The alert level will rise to 3 if there are three community clusters reported within a week or 10 locally transmitted cases from an unknown source in one day. Many people and businesses appear to have increased their precautions beyond what is mandated.
On Wednesday Taiwan’s premier, Su Tseng-chang, said people had been getting “more relaxed or careless as time goes by”, having been largely untouched by the pandemic. Taiwan locked down early, restricting non-resident entries, and has run a strict hotel and home quarantine system. Voluntary mask use has remained high.
Of Taiwan’s 1,290 total Covid cases, just 164 have been local. The rest were detected in recent arrivals who were in hotel quarantine. A dozen people have died.