Taiwan reported 333 new domestic cases of Covid-19 on Monday, breaking yesterday’s record high of 206 as a surge in infections continues to put pressure on hospitals and medical facilities.

Health minister Chen Shih-chung said Taiwan will stop allowing entry to foreign nationals without a residence permit from May 19 to June 18, with exceptions for emergency and humanitarian purposes. All transit flights through Taiwan will be discontinued.

“Our medical capacity is under pressure and there continues to be imported cases,” Chen said. “Now we have to reserve hospitals and quarantine hotels for local people.”

The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) announced 335 new cases, including two imported cases, in a daily press briefing on the pandemic. There were 158 cases in Taipei, 89 of which were in the district of Wanhua, the center of a cluster of more than 200 cases linked to tea houses.

Another 148 cases were in neighboring New Taipei, mostly in the district of Banqiao, which borders Taipei’s Wanhua district. Sporadic cases were diagnosed in the cities Taichung, Taoyuan, and Keelung, along with the counties Changhua, Yilan, Hsinchu, and Miaoli. 40 cases were without a clear source of infection.

Taipei and New Taipei moved to Level 3 of the country’s four-tier alert system on Saturday, one stage short of a complete lockdown, after the CECC announced 180 local cases of Covid-19. Under the new alert, mask wearing in public has been required and non-essential businesses and venues have been ordered to close for the first time since the pandemic began.

Today, Taipei and New Taipei ordered all high schools, middle schools, kindergartens, daycare centers, and cram schools to close until next Friday. Several schools in Taichung and Changhua switched to remote learning after Covid-19 cases were reported among students.

The Executive Yuan, the executive branch of Taiwan’s government, also announced that civil servants working in Taipei and New Taipei will be allowed to work flexible hours from May 17 to 28 and some government agencies plan to institute remote working.

In Wanhua and other places where new cases were diagnosed, people are rushing to rapid testing stations and hospitals in large numbers to test for Covid-19. The Taipei city government has set up a fifth testing site in Wanhua in response to the demand. According to the Liberty Times, around 10% of rapid tests taken in the district returned positive results.

Taipei’s mayor Ko Wen-je urged the public to get tested only when they show symptoms. It is not necessary to test for the virus every day, he added.

Meanwhile, at least six hospitals in Taipei and New Taipei have reported Covid-19 infections among patients. The CECC did not reveal the hospitals, but Taiwanese media has reported one of them to be New Taipei’s Far Eastern Hospital, where seven patients and their family members were infected.

New Taipei’s mayor Hou Yu-ih said “the source of infection” for the Far Eastern hospital cases has been confirmed. Patients and their family members, as well as medical staff, who have contacts with the first case, have been tested, and the hospital has been disinfected.

As a surge in domestic infections continues, many have called for a full lockdown to contain the community spread. But the health minister noted strict measures will face resistance.

“It’s not that the more stringent the measures are the better,” Chen said. “The government has been making every effort to have the situation under control without bringing much disruption to the economy and society.”

Today’s cases sent Taiwan’s total Covid-19 case count to 2,017, including 1,081 locally-transmitted cases and 12 deaths.

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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty, Bryan Chou (@thenewslensintl)

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