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Premier requests checks of all hand luggage from ASF affected areas

2019/01/17 21:05:51

Taipei, Jan. 17 (CNA) Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) has issued a directive for Taiwan Customs officers to check all hand luggage carried by passengers arriving from countries and areas affected by African swine fever (ASF), Cabinet spokeswoman Kolas Yotaka said Thursday.

At a Cabinet meeting earlier in the day, Su instructed all the relevant government agencies to increase their staff and the number of X-ray machines at Taiwan's airports so that the luggage scans can be carried out without causing delays at Customs, Kolas said.

The broader luggage checks at Taiwan's airports are aimed at preventing the entry of the ASF virus, which could devastate the country's NT$80 billion (US$2.58 billion) a year pig farming industry, she said.

According to Kolas, the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) has deployed an additional 120-150 police officers to help with the luggage checks at the country's airports and will install more X ray machines.

Currently, only 30 percent of the hand luggage carried by passengers from ASF affected areas are being scanned, she said, adding that Su has asked for the checks to be stepped up to 100 percent.

Authorities in Taiwan are deeply concerned that the outbreak of ASF in China could spread to Taiwan and Kinmen, which is only about 2 kilometers east of the mainland Chinese city of Xiamen.

On Wednesday, Taiwan implemented a 100 percent check of hand luggage carried by passengers arriving at Taoyuan International Airport from China, Hong Kong and Macau.

However, due to the huge passenger volume at the Taoyuan airport, only random checks were being carried out on the luggage of passengers arriving from other ASF affected areas.

At smaller airports throughout the country, all the hand luggage of passengers from ASF affected areas was being scanned.

According to the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine (BAPHIQ), the other ASF affected areas include Russia, Belgian, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine.

After an inspection tour of the Taoyuan airport on Monday, Premier Su said at Thursday's Cabinet meeting that the city's Mayor Cheng Wen-tsan (鄭文燦) was making every effort to prevent the entry of ASF, according to Kolas. Su also commended the MOI, the Council of Agriculture, Ministry of Finance, and Ministry of Transportation and Communications for their work in that regard, Kolas said.

However, the premier wants to see more stringent luggage checks at Taiwan's airports, she said.

At present, flights from ASF affected areas account for only 20 percent of the total number of flights into Taiwan, so the tighter luggage checks will not affect all passengers arriving in the country, Su said, according to Kolas.

Following the premier's directive, the BAPHIQ, the Aviation Police Bureau (APB) and Customs have put out information to inform passengers from China, Hong Kong and Macau about the new luggage regulations and to warn them not to bring meat products into Taiwan.

On Wednesday, a total of 8,929 passengers on 54 flights arriving at the Taoyuan airport from China, Hong Kong and Macau had their hand luggage checked, at an average speed of 8.84 passengers per minute, the APB said.

Since December, the fines have been raised for people bringing in pork products as the government has stepped up measures to prevent ASF from spreading to Taiwan.

With the tougher penalties, first time offenders face a fine of NT$200,000, while repeat offenders risk a fine of NT$1 million, for bringing in pork products from ASF-affected countries and areas.

(By Ku Chuan, Chiu Chun-chin and Frances Huang)