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Members of the public wait in line at a vaccination facility administering the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine set up at Taipei Main Station in Taipei, Taiwan, on Jan. 17, 2022.

Members of the public wait in line at a vaccination facility administering the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine set up at Taipei Main Station in Taipei, Taiwan, on Jan. 17, 2022. (I-Hwa Cheng/Bloomberg )

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Taiwan reported a record number of Covid cases as multiple outbreaks across several cities overwhelmed health authorities' efforts to contain the virus.

Local infections rose to an all-time high of 1,209, health minister Chen Shih-chung said at a briefing in Taipei on Friday. It was the first time since the global pandemic began that Taiwan has reported more than 1,000 cases in a day. Chen also warned that the daily case figures are likely to get much worse.

"The scale of the pandemic right now is very large," he said, adding it's possible to see tens of thousands of cases or even "millions." "The point is not about the case counts, but about whether we can prevent a disastrous impact."

To mitigate the severity of the outbreak, health authorities imposed stricter policies on booster shots, requiring those that cannot ensure social distancing in their workplaces, such as teachers, personal trainers and childminders, to receive booster shots starting from April 22.

The outbreak threatens to upend years of painstaking work by health authorities to keep Taiwan largely Covid-free. Strict quarantine measures and contact tracing have helped keep the number of local infections to around 22,000, with fewer than 850 fatalities from domestic infections since the beginning of 2020.

The surge in infections leaves the government's Covid strategy at a crossroads. Over the past two years, authorities have successfully managed to stamp out outbreaks, but this is the first time they have had to deal with multiple, widespread infections on such a scale.

The health minister has ruled out a return to last year's soft lockdown, when large gatherings were banned, entertainment and recreation venues were shut down and restaurants were only allowed to offer takeout meals. But he has said previously quarantine measures for anyone who tests positive and all arrivals into Taiwan will likely remain in place until 2023.

Just under 80% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to data from the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control.


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