Taiwan to ban entry for many foreigners in coronavirus fight

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan will ban entry for many foreigners as part of coronavirus prevention measures, excluding resident permit holders, diplomats and migrant workers, the government said on Wednesday, as it battles a rise in imported cases.

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Taiwan has won plaudits from health experts for its efforts to rein in the virus, but has begun reporting daily rises in cases among people returning from other countries, especially Europe.

Its tally of 100 cases includes 23 reported on Wednesday.

With almost all the cases of the last three days imported, the government has already asked Taiwanese not to travel abroad unless necessary, and will step up its controls from midnight (1600 GMT) to stop the entry of most foreigners.

“No matter whether you are Taiwanese or a foreigner in Taiwan, in the face of the virus we are all in the same boat,” President Tsai Ing-wen wrote on her Facebook page, detailing the entry ban.

All entrants to Taiwan will have to spend 14 days in home quarantine, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung told a news conference, adding that the number of imported cases had increased sharply.

“(I) hope this peak period will pass quickly,” Chen added.

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Taiwan’s travel warnings have advised against visiting China, Japan, and large parts of Europe and Southeast Asia, unless necessary. On Thursday it added Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the whole of the United States.

The government did not say how long the measures would run, adding that would depend on how the virus situation developed.

Taiwan is also making an exception for foreign migrant workers, many from Southeast Asia who are a vital part of its economy, employed in factories and as home carers, though they too have to spend 14 days in home quarantine on arrival.

Taiwan will also step up cooperation, including research and vaccine production, with the United States, where the virus is spreading fast, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told the same news conference.

Wu said the United States will provide Taiwan with material for 300,000 protective suits and the island will export 100,000 masks to the United States each week, once it has enough supply for itself.

“This symbolises the close relationship between Taiwan and the United States,” Wu said, adding that the two countries hoped their joint effort would benefit the international community.

Taiwan has boosted weekly production of masks to 11 million since banning their export in late January, and Chen said it aimed to raise that to 15 million.

Taiwan has also set up an “electronic fence” system that makes use of mobile telephones to alert police and authorities if those in home quarantine step out of bounds.

Reporting by Yimou Lee; additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Clarence Fernandez