Taiwan’s Covid Cases Soar Past 10,000 in Test of Safe Haven

New local infections doubled in the previous three days

by BLOOMBERG

TAIWAN’S Covid-19 cases spiked sharply to more than 10,000 on Thursday, doubling in a matter of days, even as the government seeks to avoid imposing widespread restrictions that could harm the economy.

The number of domestic infections rose to 11,353, health minister Chen Shih-chung said at a briefing in Taipei on Thursday. That’s up from 5,108 on Monday and 2,969 a week ago, according to government data.

“Everybody knows that big waves are coming,” Chen said. “Everyone should work together to fight against the virus.”

Daily cases are projected to rise to as high as 37,852 by May 5, said the Centers for Disease Control.

Taiwan’s current situation, with about one in seven of all infections throughout the pandemic reported today, underscores how successful the island of 23.3 million people has been at keeping Covid at bay and the challenge that lies ahead as omicron finally arrives at its door. While health authorities managed to stamp out previous outbreaks, the highly contagious variant could overwhelm its health care system if serious infections and deaths begin to climb.

Because it’s largely avoided the virus in the past two years, Taiwan’s medical facilities and workers are less experienced with serious outbreaks, potentially leading to more adverse outcomes. In its last major outbreak in June, deaths surged to one of the highest case-fatality rates in the world.

Omicron has created a fork in the road for many areas in the region, particularly China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia that initially adhered to strict Covid Zero strategies aimed at eliminating the virus. China and Hong Kong have continued to battle the pathogen, employing targeted lockdowns and mitigation measures to regain control at a cost to their economies, while Australia and Singapore elected to lean on their high vaccination rates and learn to live with the virus.

Overall, Taiwan’s vaccination rate – with just under 80% covered by two shots – remains lower than many developed economies and places in the region like Singapore and South Korea. It’s about the same level seen in Hong Kong before its devastating omicron wave kicked off earlier this year, leading to more than a million infections and 9,000 deaths in the financial hub.

A silver lining is that Taiwan’s elderly appear better protected than those in Hong Kong, who accounted for more than 90% of the deaths. Some 72% of those 75 and older in Taiwan are double-vaccinated.

Taiwan has been one of the safest places in the world during the Covid pandemic, with fewer than 850 deaths. About 59% of the population has had a booster shot already.

The government has been slowly shifting away from its earlier strategy of trying to eliminate all cases, and instead largely allowing life to continue as normal while still trying to prevent uncontrolled spread. While mandatory quarantine remains for those who have come into contact with a confirmed case, officials shortened the length of isolation to three days for those who test negative.