Taipei says foreign visitors will be allowed to enter once a vaccine is discovered.
Taiwan’s borders will remain sealed to foreigners as it prepares to loosen some restrictions on key economic activity, with officials indicating travel will only return to normal when a vaccine is found.
Chen Shih-chung, the health minister, said on Wednesday that while the government would try to gradually allow some foreigners to enter for important economic activity that could not be conducted remotely, the country was not even close to discussing a broader lifting of an entry ban on foreign nationals imposed to keep the disease out.
Taipei’s caution, despite its early success at containing the virus, serves as a stark reminder of the difficulties countries face when mapping exit strategies from epidemic prevention regimes, as governments in Europe, some US states, Australia and New Zealand attempt to ease lockdowns.
Taiwan has become a global role model for its handling of Covid-19 as it has recorded only 439 confirmed cases and six deaths. Early screening of arriving travellers and border closures, thorough contact tracing and meticulous quarantine measures helped contain the virus before it could spread in the community.
That helped Taipei avoid the lockdowns governments from China to Europe to the US were forced to impose.
Mr Chen said that partly because of this success, the barrier for Taiwan’s return to normality would be particularly high. “It is hard to imagine,” he said in response to a question whether a return to normal cross-border travel was possible this year.
The possibility of reopening Taiwan to foreign travellers depended on when a safe vaccine or drug for treatment of the disease became available, said Mr Chen.
“So far, potential vaccines are still not safe enough, and that may continue to be an issue for quite some time,” he added. “While a country with a high infection rate and a high death rate [from coronavirus] may consider using such a vaccine, for Taiwan with its very low infection and death rates, that is not an option.”