CORONAVIRUS/Foreign missions urge Taiwan to ease COVID-19 border restrictions

10/17/2021 03:39 PM
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CNA file photo
CNA file photo

Taipei, Oct. 17 (CNA) Several foreign missions in Taiwan are urging the government to ease its strict COVID-19 border control measures that they say are hurting people-to-people exchanges and the running of businesses.

They made the appeal in response to CNA inquiries on how the border controls have affected their respective countries' exchanges with Taiwan, amid growing concerns voiced privately by foreign offices and businesses here over the restrictive measures.

Taiwan has maintained strict entry requirements since March 2020, generally banning most arrivals except for citizens and foreign residents and requiring those who do enter the country to undergo stringent 14-day quarantines.

Though the rules have been adjusted marginally over the past 18 months depending on the progression of the disease, they have been particularly tight since May 19, 2021, after Taiwan experienced a surge in domestic COVID-19 cases.

At present, exceptions to the visitor ban can only be made in emergencies or for humanitarian reasons, but in such circumstances, those involved are required to apply in advance to the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) for permission to enter the country.

Asked about the controls, the French Office in Taipei, the country's representative office in Taiwan, told CNA that the French community in Taiwan was grateful for these measures "that make us safer here than any other part of the world."

It called on local authorities, however, to consider gradually relaxing the restrictions to allow for the entry of more international travelers, "especially those who are fully vaccinated."

The suspension of visas has had an impact on French companies operating in Taiwan, causing disruptions to their workforces, the office said in an email response to CNA.

"They cannot either bring in the foreign experts they need for the implementation of certain critical projects, in particular in the manufacturing industry (semiconductors in particular) but also in transport infrastructure projects (metro) or in the energy sector (offshore wind power)," the office said.

The controls have also made it harder for the French office to complete tasks dependent on people-to-people contacts and exchanges.

With the vaccination rate in Taiwan rising, the office said it was hopeful that "we'll see very soon some easing of the current restrictions that would allow us to resume programs and exchanges between France and Taiwan, while still keeping us safe."

Echoing that view, Germany's representative office in Taiwan, the German Institute Taipei, said German companies needed experts to enter Taiwan to keep businesses going and implement new projects.

In the offshore wind sector, for instance, the border restrictions "are very counterproductive as projects cannot be completed on time."

Educational institutions are also feeling the pinch, the office said. The German section of the European School is still short three new teachers who cannot come to Taiwan because their family members are not allowed to accompany them, the office told CNA.

As with the French and German offices, the European Economic and Trade Office (EETO) said it understood the need for strict measures to fight the pandemic.

"But there is a clear sense within the international community here -- diplomats, expats, students, families -- that Taiwan is missing out on people to people contacts," the EETO, which represents EU interests in Taiwan, said in an email to CNA.

"It is much more difficult to bring in staff and their families from abroad. Everybody is looking forward to more flexible measures so that normal exchanges can resume," it said.

Singapore's top envoy to Taiwan, Yip Wei Kiat (葉偉傑), shared similar concerns.

After the COVID-19 situation in Singapore and Taiwan had stabilized in late 2020, Singapore unilaterally opened its borders to travelers from Taiwan, the envoy said.

Travelers who met the criteria were only subjected to one PCR test upon arrival in Singapore, and they were allowed in without having to be quarantined if they tested negative, according to Yip.

Starting Oct. 19, Singapore will implement the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) program to allow its citizens and permanent residents traveling to any of 10 countries in North America, Europe and Asia to return to Singapore without having to be quarantined, he said.

"We hope that Taiwan will also be ready to come on board with these travel arrangements soon," he said.

When contacted by CNA with these concerns, CECC spokesperson Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥) seemed to indicate that Taiwan was not contemplating changes anytime soon.

He said the strict pandemic control measures were imposed to keep the coronavirus out of Taiwan given the severity of COVID-19 around the globe.

Foreign companies in Taiwan that wish to bring in foreign employees need to file an application with the CECC to get its approval, but even if they are allowed in, they will still be subject to a 14-day quarantine like everyone else, Chuang said.

If a company wants to shorten the quarantine period for an employee brought in from abroad, it has to file a comprehensive COVID-19 prevention plan to the government unit in charge of their line of business before that agency relays the plan to the CECC for approval, he said.

(By Chung Yu-chen, Chang Ming-hsuan and Joseph Yeh)

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