Taiwan has reported a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases with a cluster among factory workers threatening authorities’ tenuous control of an Omicron outbreak on the eve of the Lunar New Year.
On Saturday, Taiwan’s center for disease control reported 82 domestic cases, including 63 found at the Taoyuan factory in a first round of testing on Friday. Most of the sick are migrant workers, Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung said.
Taiwan maintains strict controls at its borders, with the few eligible participants sent to 14 days of quarantine, seven days of self-managed semi-isolation and multiple tests. With Omicron taking the world by storm, a higher number of positive cases have been reported among new arrivals, despite requirements for a negative test before boarding outbound flights.
In recent weeks, authorities have responded to groups in Taoyuan connected to the international airport and another in the southern city of Kaohsiung. Saturday’s figures included 14 new cases in the latest cluster, but the CDC said the airport cluster appears to have stabilized after tracing and isolation efforts. Saturday’s figures followed the 23 cases reported on Friday in Taoyuan and Kaohsiung.
Taiwan has adopted a zero-Covid strategy in practice, if not a formal policy, which has kept the island relatively Covid-free for most of the pandemic. Its largest outbreak in the second half of 2021 saw more than 800 deaths after the Alpha variant infected thousands and a small rural Delta outbreak infected 17, but was eventually reduced to zero.
In the months since then, vaccination rates have increased and booster shots have begun to be rolled out. The capital city, Taipei, on Friday launched a compulsory vaccination passport to enter some places, such as bars and clubs. On Saturday, the CDC said that 73% of migrant workers were vaccinated with two doses.
Taiwanese governments and businesses came under fire last year for poor treatment of migrant workers during the outbreak. Thousands were ordered to stay in crowded dormitories, which many feared put them at higher risk of contracting Covid-19, and were subjected to harsher restrictions than the local employees who worked alongside them.
On Saturday, the Ministry of Labor recommended that migrant workers in Taoyuan not go out to the city or Greater Taipei, saying that companies employing 50 or more migrant workers conduct mass testing.
With the Lunar New Year holidays starting next week, authorities urged people to be cautious about mixing with others and travelling, but imposed no restrictions.
The increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant has challenged remaining jurisdictions with zero Covid strategies. In nearby Hong Kong, authorities found at least 75 community cases in a residential block on Friday, the South China Morning Post reported. Another residential block was placed on a five-day lockdown on Friday after 34 cases were detected.
Hong Kong reintroduced social restrictions and imposed other controversial measures, including ordering the handover and destruction of more than 2,000 hamsters across the city after 11 were found to be infected at a pet store where an employee fell ill with covid.
In China, Omicron has been detected in at least seven of the country’s 31 provinces, including several cases in the capital Beijing. Local authorities have imposed a number of restrictions, which has caused some confusion and fear around the possibility of traveling during the Lunar New Year period.
Authorities in the northeastern city of Harbin said on Saturday they will hold a citywide exercise to test its estimated 10 million people for covid starting Monday, though it has had no recent cases, calling it a preventive move before of the vacations.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism