Taiwan to reserve rooms for high-risk nations’ visitors due to Omicron

Taiwan will reserve some rooms at government quarantine facilities to increase capacity in the face of the potentially highly transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (???) said Sunday.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday declared a new coronavirus variant called Omicron to be "of concern."

As a result, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) has listed six countries -- South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Zimbabwe -- as "key high-risk countries" due to the spread of Omicron there, Chen told reporters after being asked if the CECC had planned to tighten epidemic control due to the newly found variant of COVID-19.

From Monday, travelers from those countries are required to stay at government quarantine facilities for 14 days at the government's expense, said Chen, who heads the CECC.

As of Nov. 25, there were 5,573 rooms at the government-run quarantine facilities, with a vacancy rate of 47.05 percent, according to Chen.

He pointed out that the government facilities play a crucial role in blocking the possible spread of the virus from travelers entering Taiwan to the general population.

As such, he has instructed the Ministry of Health and Welfare to reserve some rooms at government quarantine facilities for travelers from countries where there have been reports of Omicron cases.

This is part of preparations being made by the government to cope with a possible demand surge at a time when a growing number of countries are being listed as high-risk nations due to the spread of Omicron, or even if Taiwan begins to see domestic Omicron infection cases, Chen said.

The government has prepared for the Omicron variant and will revise its epidemic prevention protocols on a rolling basis, he added.

The health minister also called on people to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible amid a new global COVID-19 outbreak as there has been a slowdown in vaccination rates in Taiwan following a lull in COVID-19 cases.

In November as of Sunday, only one domestic case has been reported, which was on Nov. 4, according to CECC data.

However, Chen added that Taiwan currently has no plan to follow several other countries and restrict travel from South Africa.

This is because a temporary ban on the entry of foreign nationals without effective residency permits remains in place and there are no direct flights between Taiwan and South Africa, with only a few foreigners allowed to enter Taiwan, Chen said.

Wang Pi-sheng (???), head of the Hospital and Social Welfare Administration Commission under the health ministry, said Sunday that the government held an emergency meeting the previous day in response to the newly identified Omicron coronavirus variant.

It was predicted that more countries could be listed as "key high-risk countries" and once a domestic Omicron outbreak occurs in Taiwan, then quarantine might be expanded to include COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms, which could cause significant strain on quarantine center capacity, according to Wang.

The CECC has rolled out the "7+7 program," that involves looser quarantine rules during Dec. 14-Feb. 14, for Lunar New Year inbound travelers who are fully vaccinated.

The program allows them to spend the first seven days of quarantine in a government facility or designated hotel and the remaining seven days of quarantine at home, Wang said.

However, only a few inbound travelers have met the program's conditions so not many rooms in government facilities reserved for the program have been booked, Wang noted, adding that plenty of quarantine rooms will be reserved to increase capacity in response to the potential spread of the new variant in Taiwan.

Omicron was first reported to the WHO by South Africa on Nov. 24 and has also been identified in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong, and Israel.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel