From Wednesday, all travelers who have been in Brazil in the past 14 days are required to be quarantined at a centralized facility after arriving in Taiwan and undergo a COVID-19 test upon ending quarantine, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) announced yesterday.
Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, said that starting from 12am on Wednesday, all travelers arriving from Brazil, including those who have transited through the country in the past 14 days, would have to stay at a centralized quarantine facility.
“They will be tested for COVID-19 upon completing the 14-day quarantine, and they will be allowed to leave the centralized facility and practice another seven days of self-health management if the test result is negative,” he said.
Photo: Chu Pei-hsiung, Taipei Times
In line with the rules for travelers who have been to the UK, South Africa or Eswatini within 14 days of entering Taiwan, who are also subject to centralized quarantine, travelers from Brazil would not need to pay an accommodation fee for centralized quarantine, Chen said.
He said that among a total of 63 strains of SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — identified through genomic sequencing involving confirmed cases in Taiwan since October last month, three Taiwanese were on Saturday found to have the Brazilian variant.
Among the 63 strains, five strains were of the variant found in the UK and two were of the variant found in South Africa, he added.
The three found to have the Brazilian variant are cases No. 903, 904 and 906, a Taiwanese family of four who returned from Brazil, Chen said, adding that the other family member, case No. 905, also had COVID-19, but their viral load was not high enough to complete genomic sequencing.
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Deputy Director-General Philip Lo (羅一鈞), deputy chief of the CECC’s medical response division, said that the Brazilian variant has multiple mutations in the spike protein.
“The Brazilian variant has the N501Y mutation, like the variants found in the UK and South Africa, which suggests a potential for greater transmissibility,” he said, adding that it also has the E484K mutation like the South African variant, which some scientists believe might affect the effectiveness of vaccines.
However, Lo said that there is not yet clear scientific data to prove that the Brazilian variant is more transmissible or makes vaccines less effective.
The three cases infected with the Brazilian variant experienced mild symptoms, and so far two of the family members have been released from isolation, while the other two are expected to be removed from hospital isolation soon, he said.
“Any strain of the coronavirus poses a threat to Taiwan, because we have had relatively very few confirmed cases, so very few people have antibodies against COVID-19,” Chen said, adding that the CECC therefore views the new variants and previous strains as relatively equal.
However, as a precaution, stricter measures would still be taken to separate returning travelers from areas where the three variants are spreading, and the measures might be modified depending on how the situation develops, he added.
Since Jan. 1, only Taiwanese citizens, residents and foreign visitors in a few other categories have been allowed to enter the country, but only after presenting a negative COVID-19 test result.
All transit flights through Taiwan have also been discontinued.
Asked if the stringent border restrictions would be lifted soon, Chen said that the center is considering easing the restrictions from March 1, although a final decision has not yet been made.
Additional reporting by CNA
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