TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – After President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on Friday (Aug 19) asked for a timetable for Taiwan to open to tourists, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) refused to commit to specifics due to fears of a new wave of COVID cases.
During a speech marking the start of the 2022 Taiwan Tourism Expo, Tsai announced that she has asked the Cabinet for a timetable for opening Taiwan to international tourism and said the “dawn light” for the tourism industry will come soon. At a later press conference, CECC head Victor Wang (王必勝) found himself bombarded with questions about when the new tourism plan would be implemented.
The first question was whether the CEC had received instructions from the Tourism Bureau to lift border restrictions on tourism. Wang confirmed that the CECC had received instructions from the bureau on Thursday (Aug 18).
Wang said the center is reviewing the guidelines and if it has different opinions, it will discuss them with the Tourism Bureau. He then thanked the bureau for the information, described as preparation for opening the borders, and said there would be further discussions on the matter.
Another reporter then asked if Wang could provide more details on the Tourism Bureau’s plan and when the borders will open. Wang said the scheme has not yet been finalized, but once it is completed, the Tourism Bureau will attend the CECC press conference to explain the details.
Wang said no specific timeline has been set for when border restrictions will be lifted because the center must first see how the pandemic progresses before making a final decision.
Another reporter asked if there are targets that must be met before borders can be reopened. Wang said the center had received instructions from Tsai and the cabinet, but he said prevention of the epidemic should be prioritized first over the economy and tourism.
He said the easing of restrictions would depend on the pandemic and risk assessment. It will be implemented in stages with the aim “to enable citizens to fully return to a normal life, including tourism”.
Wang was also asked if he could provide the public with an approximate time frame for when border controls will be eased, such as the month or time of year. Wang insisted that the opening of borders would not be based on a timetable, but a plan that would be implemented gradually.
He said the “3 + 4” and “one person per room” quarantine rules will be addressed first. Another issue will be whether the capacity of hotels to prevent the epidemic can be increased.
Wang said it will then be considered whether tour groups can depart and enter the country. There will also be an evaluation of the “0 + 7” plan, Wang said.
The head of the CEC said a major factor is the anticipated new wave of cases of Omicron’s BA.5 subvariant. He said the key would be to observe its severity and see how long it lasts.
He said that if the BA.5 wave ends quickly, border controls can be loosened sooner.
Another reporter quoted the Civil Aviation Administration as saying that it will soon be able to increase the weekly passenger quota from 40,000 to 80,000. Wang said that in addition to the capacity of the airport, the capacity of the hotels should also be taken into account to prevent the epidemic.
He said that given the continued “3 + 4” quarantine, testing on arrival and transport restrictions, there is a limit to how many passengers can be processed per day. He said there is room for passenger growth, but it will depend on the situation.
Wang also said that the BA.5 eruption is expected to peak either in late September or early October. If the scale is not so large, then the center may consider opening the borders sooner, Wang said.