Taiwan amends travel ban on medical personnel

02/24/2020 04:04 PM
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Taipei, Feb. 24 (CNA) A ban on overseas travel placed on Taiwan's frontline medical personnel will only apply to those regions where the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is most serious, a Ministry of Health and Welfare official said Monday.

Under the ban, frontline medical workers employed in hospitals around the country will be barred from visiting China, Hong Kong, and Macau, the three regions for which the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) has issued its highest Level 3 travel alert, according to Shih Chung-liang (石崇良), Director-General of the Ministry's Department of Medical Affairs.

Medical workers who wish to visit countries for which a Level 1 or Level 2 travel alert has been issued must obtain prior approval, Shih told reporters.

These include Japan, South Korea, and Singapore, which have been issued a Level 2 alert, as well as Thailand, Iran, and Italy, which have received a Level 1 alert.

There will be no limitations on travel to countries that are not included in the CECC's travel advisory list, Shih said.

Details regarding the policy will be hashed out with hospital officials at a meeting on Tuesday, and only be enforced after it is officially announced, the ministry said in a statement Monday.

Shih's amendment of the proposed policy came a day after Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who also heads the CECC, announced that all medical workers would be barred from traveling abroad, a statement that was later amended to only frontline medical workers.

Considering the current shortage of manpower in the health system, Taiwan cannot afford to put its medical personnel into 14-day quarantine when they return from trips abroad, Chen said Sunday.

The announcement sparked pushback on social media and from union leaders, including some who questioned whether such a travel ban would be lawful.

The proposed ban was walked back further on Monday to include an outright ban on visiting only China, Hong Kong and Macau.

Regarding the legality of the ban, Shih said Monday that under Taiwan's Physicians Act, physicians are obliged to follow the directions of the competent authorities in order to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

The Medical Care Act also stipulates that in case of serious disasters, medical care institutions shall obey the orders and directions of competent authorities in providing medical care services and assisting public health, and those orders cannot be ignored or refused, Shih said.

(By Chen Wei-ting and Chiang Yi-ching)

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