Taiwan advises against all China travel, releases mask stocks

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan raised its travel warning for China on Tuesday saying that people should avoid going unless absolutely necessary amid an outbreak of the new coronavirus there, and said it had begun to release stocks of face masks but would limit purchases.

Taiwan and China have close economic and cultural ties, and the island has reported seven confirmed cases of the virus so far. All of the more than 100 deaths so far have been in China, centered on Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province.

Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Centre said it had raised its previous advice and would extend to the rest of China an existing warning not to go to Hubei province unless totally necessary, though Hong Kong and Macau are excluded.

Taiwan also has rolled out strict curbs on Chinese visitors, restricting a vast majority of them.

Last week Taiwan’s government announced a one-month ban on the export of specialist masks designed to be used for medical personnel, saying it had to look after the needs of its own people first.

Some pharmacies in Taiwan have reported shortages of face masks since the island reported its first case a week ago, and the government says it is working to ensure supplies.

In a separate notice on Tuesday, the government said it would until Thursday release more stock of masks, but limit each person to buying a maximum of three.

However, it also issued a reminder that most healthy people do not need to wear masks all the time.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, visiting people on Tuesday to extend Lunar New Year wishes, said the government was fully prepared to deal with the virus and people should not panic.

“Our anti-epidemic work does not take holidays, and is taking place 24 hours a day,” the presidential office quoted her as saying.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard, Editing by William Maclean