Don't go abroad, Taiwan says as reports first double-digit rise in virus cases

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen asked people on Tuesday not to travel abroad to ensure the coronavirus is not brought back to the island, as the government announced its first double-digit rise in cases, all imported from overseas.

Taiwan has won plaudits from health experts for its efforts to effectively control the spread of the virus, but it is now reporting daily rises in cases from people returning to the island from other countries.

“Travelling abroad is highly risky. Stay in Taiwan, it’s comparatively safer,” Tsai wrote on her Facebook page, accompanied by a picture of her looking stern and raising a finger as though offering an admonishment.

Shortly after Tsai’s message, the government announced a 10-person jump in cases, its largest to date and all of whom were infected abroad, bringing Taiwan’s total to 77.

“We will try to speed up our border control measures,” Health Minister Chen Shih-chung told a news conference, adding that domestically transmitted cases were limited but there had been a sharp increase in imported cases in recent days.

The next 14 days were a “high alert period”, Chen said, adding he hoped to contain the outbreak.

The government has been cracking down on people going to countries which Taiwan has a level three travel warning on, meaning they should not go unless they absolutely have to.

The government will not give a T$1,000 daily subsidy for those doing home quarantines if they come back from one of the level-three countries, and fine those who provide false information on entry health declaration forms.

A level-three warning has been on China for some time, and has been added to most of Europe, but Taiwan had held off doing so for Japan, Southeast Asia and parts of the United States where the virus has been spreading fast.

The government has added the U.S. states of California, Washington and New York to the level-three list, as well as Japan and more than a dozen Southeast Asian countries, including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand.

It added Myanmar too, though it has not officially announced any cases.

Those entering Taiwan from those countries will have to undergo a 14-day home quarantine.

Chen said that visa-free entry would also be suspended for people from countries on the level-three list who had previously enjoyed it, which includes Japan, the United States and large parts of Europe, and they will have to get visas if they really needed to come.

Taiwan this week also banned overseas travel for most students and teachers, excluding those at university.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Robert Birsel