By Courtney Donovan Smith
April Marks End to Zero-COVID Policy
Locally transmitted cases in Taiwan have been rising exponentially since early April, as the Omicron variant began spreading across the island. Recognizing the variant’s infectiousness, the economic costs of the zero-COVID approach, and that almost all reported cases have been mild or asymptomatic, the government has decided to cautiously relax its stringent COVID-19 restrictions.
The new Taiwan model focuses more resources on testing and managing severe cases. Contact tracing is being scaled back, with only close contacts such as family members and coworkers now expected to quarantine for a reduced three days followed by four days of self-health management if they test negative for the coronavirus. However, the 10-day quarantine for overseas arrivals will remain in place, a continued headache for the tourist industry, business travel, and families of residents.
As early as May 2, the government began offering COVID-19 vaccinations to students aged 6-11 on school campuses. Additionally, a name-based rationing system for people to purchase COVID-19 rapid antigen test kits was launched at the end of April. Many pandemic prevention measures are expected to remain in place for the time being, including mask mandates and encouragement of social distancing.
News Media Industry Under Scrutiny
The news media industry had an eventful month, starting with the government designating Phoenix Television a Chinese-funded company, a move that should force the network to close its office in Taiwan. The Mainland Affairs Council said that “stock transfers and personnel changes” had turned Phoenix TV into a de facto Chinese state-controlled entity. A new news channel will be added, however, as long-contested approval was finally given to Mirror News to broadcast on Chung-hwa Telecom’s multimedia-on-demand (MOD) system on a fee basis.
In March, Public Television Service (PTS) was discovered to have lost about 80,000 TV news items from its archives, many permanently, due to a contractor’s oversight. Taiwan Broadcasting System (TBS) chairperson Tchen Yu-chiou was forced to resign on April 22 after several mishaps at two stations managed by the group. In the most serious incident, Chinese Television System (CTS), which belongs to the government-run TBS group, accidentally broadcast false news items that had been prepared as a part of a test. The alarming messages aired in its news crawl included “New Taipei City hit by Chinese People’s Liberation Army missiles,” “Vessel explodes in Taipei Harbor, facilities and ships destroyed,” and “China makes frequent moves to prepare for war.”
A few hours later, a second group of messages announced: “Fist-sized hailstones fell on Taipei at midnight, downtown traffic a mess,” “Datun Volcano erupts,” and “Oil field discovered in the Bashi Channel.” The station said the second batch of messages had been prepared for a New Taipei City Fire Department disaster drill program and accidentally got mixed into regular broadcasting, though many pointed out that some of the items were unrelated to New Taipei City. A few days later, CTS mislabeled Premier Su Tseng-chang as “President.” Besides Tchen, the head of CTS and other top executives at the station were forced to resign, and the company may face up to NT$2 million in fines.