TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan, a poster child for efforts to control the novel coronavirus, will from next month require almost all visitors to have negative COVID-19 tests before arriving, it said on Wednesday, tightening rules after an uptick in imported cases.
The government will also increase the number of places where people must wear masks.
Taiwan has not reported any domestic transmissions of the virus for more than 200 days, and has the pandemic well in hand thanks to early and effective prevention.
But the island’s government has watched nervously as imported cases rise, albeit at a far lower rate than in many other places. Taiwan reported eight new cases on Friday, all imported, the most in a single day since April 19.
Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said that between Dec. 1 and Feb. 28 virtually everyone entering Taiwan will be required to have a negative COVID test, taken within three days of setting out to travel, though exceptions will be made for international mariners and in individual humanitarian cases.
The enforcement period may also be extended, he told reporters.
Previously, Taiwanese citizens and Taiwan residence permit holders did not need to present negative coronavirus tests before being allowed in, though most other travellers did.
The government will also mandate people wear masks in a larger number of places, including temples, art galleries and bars, Chen said, also from Dec. 1, or risk fines of up to T$15,000 ($526).
Masks are already widely worn in Taiwan.
Some public places like night markets may have to limit the number of people who can enter, according to guidelines Chen unveiled.
Taiwan, with a population of 24 million, has reported a total of 608 cases of the virus and seven deaths. It has about 60 active cases.
Life has largely returned to normal after earlier restrictions on large-scale events were lifted, and the island has never gone into full lockdown.
Still, its borders remain effectively closed to most visitors.
($1 = 28.5080 Taiwan dollars)
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard)