Taiwan to move away from zero Covid strategy: minister

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Taipei (AFP) – Taiwan will move away from a zero Covid policy and instead focus on battling the most severe infections in a bid to live with the coronavirus, its health minister said on Thursday.

The decision leaves China – and its financial center Hong Kong – as the only major economy to stick to the strategy even as Omicron breaks down those defenses.

Taiwan has largely closed its borders and implemented strict quarantine rules throughout the pandemic, keeping infection numbers low.

An outbreak last year prompted the temporary reimposition of economically painful social distancing measures until it was brought under control.

Infections are rising again, but Taiwanese leaders have signaled they will follow other former Covid zero economies like Singapore, Australia and New Zealand in opening up.

Asked during a parliamentary session on Thursday whether Taiwan was in a “transition phase” from pursuing zero cases to living with the virus, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung replied: “Yes, you can. to say it”.

“We won’t stop our path to openness, that’s our direction but we will maintain effective management. The main focus now is damage mitigation,” he said.

Chen’s remarks came a day after President Tsai Ing-wen called for calm and confidence in the island’s ability to cope with the spike in cases.

“With ongoing vaccination and targeted use of medical resources, we continue to pursue our goal of mitigating damage while ensuring the health of our economy,” she tweeted on Wednesday.

For most of March, Taiwan recorded single-digit case counts, but infections have been steadily rising since 87 were reported on March 31.

On Thursday, new infections rose to 382, ​​a record this year and the seventh day in a row with the number above 100.

Chen said Taiwan could not live fully with the virus yet, but planned to “gradually relax” quarantine requirements.

A sticking point could be poor vaccination rates. Currently, 79% of the population have received two doses, but only 51% have received a booster.

Vaccination rates among the elderly, the most vulnerable demographic group, are also low.

Taiwan’s plan to change tack comes as an outbreak in China’s economic heartland of Shanghai exposes the limits of strict zero-Covid controls.

Residents of the city of 25 million have been confined to their homes and authorities are now recording around 20,000 new infections a day.

Chinese social media has been filled with stories of people struggling to secure food and medicine deliveries.

In Hong Kong, the zero Covid strategy collapsed when Omicron burst onto the scene earlier this year, leaving the city with one of the highest virus death rates in the world.

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