TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – After President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on Friday (Aug 19) called for a timetable for Taiwan to open to tourists, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) declined to commit to details 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 had asked the cabinet for a timetable for opening Taiwan to international tourism and said the “light of dawn” for the tourism industry is coming soon. At a subsequent press conference, CECC chief Victor Wang (王必勝) was bombarded with questions about when the new tourism plan would be implemented.
The first question was whether the CECC had received guidance from the Tourism Office on the lifting of border restrictions for tourism. Wang confirmed that the CECC had received directives from the office 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 office for the information, described as preparations for the opening of the borders, and said further discussions on the matter would take place.
Another reporter then asked if Wang could provide more details about the Tourism Bureau’s plan and what date the borders will open. Wang said the scheme has not yet been finalized, but once it is, the Tourism Bureau will participate in the CECC press conference to explain the details.
Wang said no specific timetable 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 journalist asked if there are targets that must be met before the borders can be reopened. Wang said the center had received instructions from Tsai and the cabinet, but said epidemic prevention should be prioritized first over the economy and tourism.
He said easing restrictions will depend on the pandemic and risk assessment. It will be implemented in stages with the aim of “allowing citizens to fully return to 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 the 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 would be addressed first. Another issue will be whether the epidemic prevention capacity of hotels can be increased.
Wang said that then it will be considered whether tour groups can leave and enter the country. There will also be an evaluation of the “0 + 7” plan, Wang said.
The CECC official said a major factor is the expected new wave of cases of Omicron’s BA.5 subvariant. He said the key would be to watch its severity and see how long it lasts.
He said if the BA.5 wave ends quickly, border controls can be loosened more quickly.
Another reporter quoted the Civil Aeronautics 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 airport’s capacity, the epidemic prevention capacity of hotels should also be considered.
He said that given the continuation of the “3 + 4” quarantine, tests on arrival and transport restrictions, there is a limit to how many passengers can be processed per day. He said there is room for an increase in passengers, but that will depend on the situation.
Wang also said the BA.5 outbreak is expected to peak in late September or early October. If the scale is not so large, then the center may consider opening the borders sooner, Wang said.