Taiwan has imposed new restrictions including limits on gatherings in its capital as it battles its biggest coronavirus outbreak since the start of the pandemic last year.
The democratically-ruled island off the coast of China, widely praised as a success for its handling of Covid-19, reported 335 new cases Monday — a record single-day rise. All but two are locally transmitted, the island’s Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) reported.
According to the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control, 155 out of 158 cases in the capital, Taipei, were linked to hostess teahouses.
Monday’s numbers follow a previous record 207 new cases reported Sunday.
Taiwanese authorities imposed new social distancing measures Saturday, closing bars, clubs and gyms around the island, and restricting indoor gatherings in Taipei and the surrounding New Taipei City to five people. In Taipei, people must wear masks outdoors — failure to do so is punishable by a fine of 3,000 to 15,000 New Taiwanese dollars ($107 to $535).
All schools and kindergartens in Taipei and New Taipei will be closed for two weeks starting Tuesday, and several local councils have also been suspended.
The measures are in response to “an increasing level of community transmission, shown by cases of unknown sources of infection as well as cluster infections in Taipei City and New Taipei City,” the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control said in a news release.
The self-ruled island’s leader, Tsai Ing-wen, urged residents to follow the guidelines, and ensure those around them stayed safe and healthy.
Last week, Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung said the island was in “critical condition,” according to Taiwan’s official Central News Agency (CNA).
CNA reported the outbreak was first detected among pilots, but cases have since been found in the community. Taiwan is now reporting a number of clusters, including cases linked to hostess teahouses in Taipei and an amusement arcade in northeastern Yilan city.
The spike in cases caused some alarm in Taiwan, prompting some residents to rush to get vaccinated, CNA reported. After weeks of concern over low vaccination uptake, Chen said he was now worried stocks may run out, CNA reported.
The island has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the world, with fewer than 1% of its 23 million-strong population inoculated, according to data compiled by CNN. The elderly, medical personnel and other emergency or high-risk workers, as well as diplomats, police, care workers and some other professions are currently eligible for vaccination under the government program.
The island’s current Covid-19 outbreak is relatively small compared to those in other parts of the world, but is an unfamiliar situation for Taiwan, which has until now managed to avoid a serious spike in cases.
Taiwan has reported 2,017 confirmed cases and 12 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control.
That’s won the island praise for its handling of the virus, with Bloomberg placing Taiwan fifth on its Covid Resilience Ranking, which takes into account fatalities, cases and vaccination rate. Australia’s Lowy Institute ranks Taiwan’s pandemic response in third place, behind Bhutan and New Zealand.
Last year, the island went more than 250 days without reporting a locally transmitted case.
Taiwan’s success was partly thanks to tough border rules, which saw it ban almost all non-residents from entering the island from March last year.
The island also requires incoming travelers to quarantine, although rules have been more relaxed for flight crews.
Health and Welfare Minister Chen said last week that Taiwan will quarantine all active pilots working for Taiwanese carrier China Airlines for 14 days amid a Covid-19 outbreak among flight crews and hotel workers.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the number of daily new coronavirus cases reported in Taiwan on Monday. It is 335.