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Taiwan tightens brakes following increase in COVID-19 domestic cases

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Journalists working with protective equipment in front of a closed cinema after cinemas and other venues were ordered shut down amid a growing number of COVID-19 infections in Taipei, Taiwan, May 15, 2021. REUTERS / Ann Wang reuter_tickers

This content was published on May 15, 2021 – 10:37

By Ben Blanchard and Liang-sa Loh

Taiwan (Reuters) – Taiwan raised its coronavirus alert level on Saturday in the capital, Taipei and surrounding cities, bringing down a two-week period that will shut down many countries and limit rallies following 180 new infections in the family.

Masks will be worn for the first time outdoors, as the government encourages work and study from home, closing cinemas and entertainment venues, while limiting family and friend gatherings to five indoors and 10 outdoors.

The Taipei government has already ordered the closure of bars, nightclubs and similar venues.

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said a “risk level” at some hotspots, such as Taiwan’s Wanhua stone district, had prompted the decision to raise the alert level.

“Only by doing so can infections be treated and controlled,” he told reporters.

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen urged people to stay home as long as possible, adding that the schools they teach should move online.

“During this time, if you have nothing to do, then stay home and do not go outside, and if you do, wear a mask to reduce infection from the drops,” said Ko, a doctor being trained.

President Tsai Ing-wen’s spokeswoman said she would reduce the number of “unnecessary meetings” or public events. The presidential office is near Wanhua.

Amid photos on social media showing people flocking to supermarkets to supply toilet paper and instant noodles, the economy ministry went on Facebook to reassure people that supplies were plentiful and there was no need to stockpile.

Rising community infections troubled the stock market this week, though the government says the island’s economic fundamentals remain good.

Deputy Finance Minister Frank Juan told Reuters authorities they would watch the market reaction on Monday, adding that he did not rule out calling a meeting of the National Stabilization Fund, which the government could use to mitigate large fluctuations.

Investors need to act rationally, he said, pointing out that only a few sectors will be affected by curbs, such as tourism, instead of the island’s essential foreign trade.

The new restrictions do not apply to Hsinchu chip manufacturing center and are unlikely to affect semiconductor exports, a global shortage of which has shut down several car factories.

Chipmaking giant Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd said it was closely monitoring the situation, cutting off non-core rallies and activities and reducing the movement of people through various chip factories.

Taiwan has millions of doses of custom vaccines from Moderna Inc. and AstraZeneca Plc, although only a small number have arrived from the latter due to global shortages and vaccination rates remain low.

More vaccines will start arriving next month, Tsai said.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Taiwan has reported less than 1,500 cases among a population of about 24 million, most of them imported from abroad, but a recent increase in community broadcasts has shocked residents.

The island has never gone into a complete deadlock and its people are used to living close to normalcy, despite the pandemic that extends to many other parts of the world.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Liang-sa Loh; Additional Reporting by Jeanny Kao; Editing by Sam Holmes and Clarence Fernandez)

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