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Coronavirus

Taiwan raises COVID restrictions after surge in cases

Island had been held up globally as model for its handling of the pandemic

People buy boxes of protective face masks in Taipei on Wednesday.   © Reuters

TAIPEI -- Taiwan imposed stricter movement restrictions around its capital on Saturday after a surge in COVID-19 cases on an island that had been seen globally as a model for its handling of the pandemic.

The number of local cases soared to 180 from 29 on Friday, prompting the government to raise its warning level to three on a scale of four in Taipei City and New Taipei City -- the economic hub of the island.

"We contained the coronavirus in the past one year, but now infections come one after another with a more contagious mutant virus spreading faster," Premier Su Tseng-chang told reporters. "We have taken necessary measures to protect high-risk communities and stop the spread."

Indoor gatherings of more than five people and outdoor gatherings of more than 10 will be banned from 4:00 p.m. local time until May 28, the government said. Schools and businesses can remain open, but people must wear masks and keep strict social distance. Street vendors and small restaurants that cannot register the names of diners and maintain social distance should only serve take-outs.

"It is not a lockdown for the cities. The spirit of level three is to reduce the risks of coronavirus spread, to reduce the scale of any gathering, while enterprises can keep operating," Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said. "Only when there are more than 100 cases every day for seven days in a row, will we consider lockdowns."

Chen said the source of two-thirds of the cases have not yet been identified, adding that the government will keep investigating the cause of the infections.

Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-je and New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi said the two cities entered warning level three with immediate effect. Hou urged New Taipei citizens to wear masks indoors and outdoors, and to not go out unless necessary.

The Taiwanese stock market fell 8.43% this week after the government on Monday warned of the possibility of implementing the strictest restrictions since the beginning of the pandemic. The island also suffered an unexpected massive power outage that affected millions of households on Thursday.

Su said Taiwan has accumulated more than one year of experience and established a mechanism to combat the pandemic.

"When the pandemic just began, we had 1.88 million masks per day, but now our daily capacity is 40 million masks," Su said. "There are 800 million masks in the warehouses. We have sufficient resources."

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