Lunar New Year has come to an end, but fears of the spread of the coronavirus (2019-nCoV) have not. For Taiwan’s health officials, excluded from the World Health Organization, the task is unenviable.

As China continues to bear the brunt of the outbreak, Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control has been monitoring the situation to prevent a possible domestic spread of the virus.

On Wednesday the CDC confirmed the 11th case of the coronavirus, when an evacuee onboard a special flight carrying over 200 Taiwanese out of Wuhan was diagnosed after landing.

The virus itself was first detected in China in December, but several weeks elapsed before the public was made aware, setting off the current global paranoia.

For the diplomatically isolated island, home to some 23 million, Taiwan’s trade and tourism are its lifeblood. In 2016, Taiwan received over 10.6 million visitors, and nearly half of them were from China alone. The numbers may have been reduced by China’s tourism ban in 2019, but authorities in Taipei are taking enormous precautions to prevent the virus from getting a foothold on the island.

Taiwan’s health and safety officials moved quickly. Hospitals were screening visitors for fevers as early as January 22, and authorities have continued to ensure as little disruption to the post-New Year environment as possible. Some policies to prevent the spread of coronavirus have been more disruptive than others.

Travel alerts

Late last month, the CDC placed Hubei Province under a Level 3 travel alert and placed the rest of China at Level 2 with health warnings. Since February 5, Zhejiang Province has been identified as a likely communicable risk. On February 1, the CDC issued a statement advising anyone who had visited China in the previous two weeks to avoid hospitals and healthcare facilities and to instead self-monitor for symptoms at home.

Extended school break

Just before the end of the New Year holiday, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) issued a statement delaying the start of the spring school semester for two weeks. Universities and public schools from elementary to senior high are having a two-week extended winter holiday.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Education stated the decision was made out of the necessity to safeguard students and teachers from the virus. The ministry has encouraged education facilities to take advantage of digital education tools, and has advised universities to make proper arrangements for returning students from China to help with course registration, payments, or necessary leave.

In light of precautions against spreading the virus, the CDC also recommended that healthy students do not need to wear face masks. Although the spring semester will begin on February 25, some universities have announced courses will not begin until March 2. But the 18-week semester will remain in place, according to the MOE, resulting in a shorter 2020 summer vacation.

Rationing system for surgical masks

Since reports of coronavirus in China surged over the New Year, surgical masks have been out of stock in many stores in Taiwan.

A rationing system for purchasing face masks comes into effect on February 6 in order to curb hoarding and scarcity. The system is based on odd or even numbered National Health Insurance cards, and limits an adult with an NHI card to purchasing two face masks at 10NT per week at NHI contracted pharmacies and local public health clinics in rural areas. Masks are also made available for children under the age of 12.

Cruise ships and Chinese residents restricted

The government enacted stricter border control measures, prohibiting the docking of cruise ships that have docked in China, Hong Kong, or Macau in the previous 14 days or those that may have infected passengers.

CDC also announced that effective February 6, Hong Kong and Macau are now elevated to Level 2 travel risks. The entry of Chinese residents to Taiwan will be suspended, and the government urges Taiwanese and foreign Taiwan residency holders who have visited China, Hong Kong, and Macau to observe a 14-day home quarantine.

14-day unpaid leave

The Vice Directorate-General of Taiwan’s Personnel Agency, the body which oversees the government’s civil servants, said government employees would be eligible for a 14-day unpaid leave in the event that they have to take care of a sick child under the age of 12 due to the coronavirus outbreak. This policy would be in effect until February 24.

Where can you follow the latest policy updates?

Despite being excluded from the WHO, Taiwan has been working hard to keep the public informed. For the latest updates on virus control in Taiwan, follow the CDC website for more information.

In addition to precautions listed by the CDC, the Taipei City Government’s Department of Health has provided bilingual instructions for reducing the likelihood of infection, including regularly washing hands, wearing appropriate medical-grade masks, and avoiding crowded areas when possible.

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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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