Taiwan to ease COVID-19 restrictions as cases drop

TAIPEI, July 23 (Reuters) - Taiwan will ease its COVID-19 restrictions next week, the government said on Friday, as rapidly falling case numbers give authorities confidence to further lower the coronavirus alert level.

Taiwan imposed restrictions on gatherings, including closing entertainment venues and limiting restaurants to take-out service, in mid-May following a spike in domestic cases after months of no or few cases apart from imported ones.

While some of those curbs were eased this month, the so-called level 3 alert has been in force and is due to end on July 26.

Premier Su Tseng-chang said the alert would be lowered to level 2 from Tuesday.

"The domestic epidemic has gradually stabilized and is heading towards a good direction," Su said. "Citizens should still strictly follow all pandemic prevention guidance to guard this hard-earned achievement after restrictions are relaxed."

Gatherings of up to 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors will be allowed.

A woman wearing a protective face mask shops at a market amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Taipei, Taiwan, July 16, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang

Dining in restaurants with social distancing will be allowed except in the capital, Taipei, and surrounding areas, where most recent cases have been reported. The dining ban there will be extended into early August.

Some restrictions will remain in place, including wearing masks both inside and outside, and some entertainment spots including bars and swimming pools will stay shut.

"We will stay alert and do not rule out the possibility of changing the alert level at any time," Health Minister Chen Shih-chung told reporters.

Taiwan's decision stands in contrast to many of its regional neighbours, like Thailand and Indonesia, where infections, largely driven by the spread of the Delta variant, are spiralling, leading to ever tighter curbs.

Taiwan has never gone into a full lockdown, though its borders remain largely closed apart from to citizens and foreign residence card holders.

Taiwan, whose domestic outbreak was always comparatively small, has reported 15,535 infections since the pandemic began, and 784 deaths.

Reporting by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Robert Birsel

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