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Taiwan gets tough on visitors

A nurse at Taipei's Hoping Municipal Hospital speaks to the outside world after she, and other workers, was quarantined there.
A nurse at Taipei's Hoping Municipal Hospital speaks to the outside world after she, and other workers, was quarantined there.

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TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Authorities in Taiwan have announced that all mainland-Chinese and Hong Kong travelers arriving on the self-ruled island must be put on a 10-day quarantine.

This heightened measure against the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) also applies to travelers, including Taiwan residents, originating from or transiting through countries and regions listed by the World Health Organization as severely affected areas.

Announcing the policy Sunday, Taiwan Premier Yu Shyi-kun said foreign visitors would be isolated in a building close to the airport while Taiwan nationals could stay in their homes.

Those violating the rules might be fined up to NT$300,000 and jailed for two years.

Last Friday Taipei announced that it was suspending issuing visas for residents of mainland China and Hong Kong for two weeks.

The new quarantine measures would apply to travelers who had already secured visas.

To date Taiwan has had 55 confirmed SARS cases.

The first SARS-related death occurred hours before the quarantine announcement was made.

Speaking on television Sunday night, Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian said "Taiwan could not be exempt from the global war against the epidemic."

He admitted that the spread of SARS in Taiwan had already resulted in "considerable shock" to society and people's livelihood.

However, Chen made no reference to mainland China, even though media commentators on the island have cited Guangdong Province and Hong Kong as the "source" of the epidemic in Taiwan.

Taiwan analysts said that while the Chen administration agreed to review the policy in two weeks, the new measure would deal a big blow to travel and commerce with the mainland and Hong Kong.

Stephen Lam, Hong Kong's Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, said Sunday night there was "no need" for quarantining Hong Kong travelers; a measure that he indicated would severely disrupt business and other links between Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Lam appealed to Taipei to reconsider the measure.

Travel companies in Hong Kong have cancelled all group tours to Taiwan, one of Hong Kong's most popular destinations.

Chinese authorities have yet to make a response, and Taipei's new policy was not reported in the mainstream press in Beijing Monday morning.

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