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Taiwan raises alert level after coronavirus cases surge

·2-min read
People wear masks on a suspension bridge in Bitan, a popular scenic spot in Taipei

Taiwan ordered stricter social distancing measures for its capital and surrounding areas on Saturday after a sudden spike in coronavirus cases in a place that has so far weathered the pandemic comparatively unscathed.

Authorities raised the alert level for Taipei and New Taipei City after 180 new domestic coronavirus infections were confirmed, up from 29 cases the previous day.

The new restrictions mean no more than five people can gather indoors and 10 outdoors -- but authorities stopped short of ordering a total lockdown.

Schools, government offices, workplaces and most businesses can stay open as long as social distancing measures can be maintained and masks are worn at all times.

"We will closely monitor in the next few days the development of the epidemic and adjust (closures) accordingly," health minister Chen Shih-chung said.

Taiwan has been hailed as a global leader in containing the Covid-19 pandemic, with just 1,500 cases, 12 deaths and minimal social distancing needed once its initial outbreak was quelled.

As a result, the island was one of the few industrialised economies to grow last year.

The latest measures come a day after authorities ordered an indefinite closure of entertainment venues in the wake of the widening outbreak.

The order covers bars, dance clubs, karaoke lounges, nightclubs, saunas and internet cafes as well as hostess clubs and teahouses.

Municipal facilities including libraries and sports centres will also be closed.

A similar cluster centred on a hospital led to the suspension of large-scale Lantern Festival events during the Lunar New Year in February.

That outbreak was quickly brought under control.

But the current cluster appears to be larger and more widespread.

Taiwan has ordered millions of vaccine doses from Moderna and AstraZeneca.

Only a small number of the latter have arrived and until this week public take-up of the vaccine scheme had been very low.

sc/jta/axn

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