Avian Flu Recurrence Hits Several Counties
The H5N6 avian flu appeared in Taiwan this past month, with confirmed cases being discovered in Hualien, Yilan, Tainan, Chiayi, and most recently Hsinchu, resulting in the culling of nearly 200,000 birds on 28 poultry farms. The H5N6 strain of Influenza A, commonly known as bird flu, is highly pathogenic in birds but so far human cases have been rare and confined to people who work closely with birds or bird carcasses, with no evidence of human-to-human transmission. Nevertheless, bird flu is known to mutate quickly, and human infections in past cases have been severe and sometimes resulted in death. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has set up a Central Epidemic Response Center to handle the crisis and has stockpiled some 1.97 million surgical masks, 510,000 sets of protective clothing, and millions of other protective gear to outfit workers charged with culling birds and disinfecting farms.
Bus Crash Kills 33 in Nangang
A tourist bus crashed on February 13 in Taipei’s Nangang District, killing 33 local tourists returning from a one-day holiday to popular tourist resort Wuling Farm in Taichung. It was Taiwan’s deadliest road accident since 1986. Prosecutors are investigating the actions taken by driver, Kang Yi-chen, who reportedly had worked 16 consecutive days prior to the accident and was said to be driving 20 kph over the speed limit on an exit ramp connecting the National Freeway No. 5 and the National Freeway No. 3 when he apparently lost control and the bus rolled over the guard rails. Eleven survivors of the crash remain hospitalized. Tourism Bureau Director-General Chou Yung-hui and Directorate-General of Highways Director-General Chen Yen-po both verbally submitted their resignations to take responsibility for the tragedy, but their resignations were reportedly refused by Premier Lin Chuan. The Ministry of Transportation and Communication is reportedly preparing measures to ensure that bus drivers are well rested and to mandate that long distance bus trips include a co-driver.
Taiwan Sets Record for Tourist Arrivals
Despite plunging tourist numbers coming from China, Taiwan saw record tourist arrivals in 2016, according to the Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics. It reported that 10.69 million tourists visited Taiwan in 2016, up 2.4% from 2015, even though arrivals from China fell by 16% to 3.5 million. Chinese tourists still comprised more than 30% of arrivals, but losses in this segment were offset by surging arrivals from other countries, primarily those in Asia, which rose by nearly 15% to come to 7.18 million. Japanese visitors rose by 16.5% to 1.9 million, while South Korean arrivals climbed by 34% to 880,000. Japan and South Korea accounted for 18% and 8% of all tourist arrivals, respectively. Taiwan’s relaxation of visa restrictions on certain Southeast Asian countries also boosted tourist arrivals from Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia, which made double digit gains in 2016.