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Taiwan and Singapore, COVID success stories, face threats

A man walks by a restaurant decorated with Taiwan flags in Taoyuan, Taiwan, May 13, 2021. — REUTERS/ANN WANG

SINGAPORE and Taiwan, success stories in containing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), are both rapidly imposing aggressive restrictions at home — and tightening travel between each other.

In Taiwan, authorities encouraged people to stay at home this weekend after a record 180 new local cases were reported Saturday. Indoor family and social gatherings in Taipei will be limited to five people, while outdoor ones will be restricted to 10.

In Singapore, indoor dining has been banned, according to an announcement on Friday, and working from home will now be the default, as the city-state re-imposed lockdown-like measures it last ordered a year ago. Seven schools will switch to home-based learning to “ring-fence” those affected by infections, as the city-state makes plans to vaccinate those below 16 years old.

The outbreaks and virus-control measures also threatened the reopening progress of regional travel. Singapore had previously allowed travelers from Taiwan to enter without a quarantine. On Saturday, it announced a ban on the entry of short-term visitors with travel history to Taiwan in the past 21 days, while requiring citizens, permanent residents and long-term pass holders to quarantine when they arrive.

Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center also demoted Singapore, along with Vietnam, to “medium-risk” from a group of low-risk places that include New Zealand, Macau and Australia, pointing to a surge in infections.

Meanwhile, a long-awaited quarantine-free travel corridor between Hong Kong and Singapore, two of Asia’s biggest financial centers, may not kick off as planned later this month amid the recurrence of cases in island nation.

Singapore and Taiwan have been seen as the poster children of COVID control success, where locals have largely gone about everyday life without fear of infection as the virus ravaged most of the world.

Taiwan went without a single domestic coronavirus infection between April and December. In Singapore — the best place to be in the coronavirus era by Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking — people have attended concerts and gone on cruise trips.

The regression of COVID control progress shows the difficulty of sustaining a virus-free environment, especially when a low level of threat made locals reluctant to get vaccinated. In Taiwan, less than 1% people have been inoculated so far, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

As a sign of the unpredictability in containing the pandemic, authorities in mainland China, which has been free of locally transmitted cases for about a month, this week reported a handful of local cases in the provinces of Anhui and Liaoning. — Bloomberg

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