Taiwan Life in Brief – February 2021

Taiwan is on higher alert after a pilot infected with COVID-19 transmitted the virus to four people and a cluster infection at a hospital in Taoyuan ended the island's more than 250-day streak of zero local cases. Photo: Martti Chen

By Austin Babb and Jason Wu

Taiwan Records Local Infections

Taiwan’s stellar record of 253 days with zero local COVID-19 infections came to an end after an EVA Air pilot from New Zealand tested positive in late December. According to the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), the pilot violated virus prevention rules and transmitted the virus to three other individuals. All contacts of the four cases were traced and tested, and the infection was contained.

Also in December, Taiwan reported the first cases of a new, more transmissible COVID-19 variant from the UK, carried in by a returning Taiwanese student. By early January, Taiwan had recorded a total of five infections with the new variant. In response, both EVA Air and China Airlines have suspended all direct passenger and cargo flights from the UK until February.

While imported cases have steadily continued to increase, in mid-January Taiwan experienced a new domestic cluster infection that started with a case of a doctor at the Taoyuan General Hospital. A subsequent 19 cases and one death have all been linked to that cluster.

In order to contain the infection, the CECC issued an order on January 24 requiring that all expanded contacts – upwards of 5,000 people – quarantine at home for two weeks. So far, over 4,000 contacts in Taoyuan, New Taipei, Taipei, and Keelung are in quarantine.

New Meat Policy Takes Effect

Taiwan’s new policy lifting restrictions on imports of ractopamine-fed meat products from the U.S. came into effect on the first day of the new year. However, the Taiwan authorities estimate that the first batch of such imports will likely not arrive until March or April due to complications from the COVID-19 pandemic and continued domestic pushback. Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung said consumers are unlikely to see any such products on supermarket shelves any time soon.

In response to the central government’s new policy, several local jurisdictions announced their own regulations on imports of U.S. meat. Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je pushed an initiative that would urge supermarkets to set up a “ractopamine-free” section in their meat departments. Meanwhile, New Taipei Mayor Hou Yu-ih introduced a measure requiring that certain retailers disclose country of origin on the products they sell, as well as whether those products contain ractopamine.

Recall Campaigns Gather Steam

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators and city council members across Taiwan are facing a series of recall campaigns launched by the opposing Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), in what is seen as retaliation for the removal from office of former Kaohsiung City mayor Han Kuo-yu in June last year.

Former Taoyuan city councilor Wang Hao-yu was the first DPP politician to be successfully removed. Wang was an outspoken critic of Han, whom he frequently criticized on social media. Wang became known for his controversial social media posts – such as those he made regarding a KMT politician who committed suicide last June – which prompted many from his constituency to support his ousting. In January, Wang was officially removed by a vote of 84,582 (92%) in favor and 7,128 (8%) against. Under Taiwanese law, Wang is barred from running for the same position for four years.

The recall movement did not stop with Wang. Kaohsiung city councilor Huang Chieh and Taichung legislator Chen Po-wei – both of whom were prominent critics of Han Kuo-yu and supported his ousting – are the most recent targets of the campaign. While the official procedure for Chen’s removal is not yet in motion, the recall vote for Huang is set for early February. Pro-Han and KMT supporters have also linked the controversy surrounding U.S. meat imports to Huang and Chen’s removal.

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