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COVID-19 Outbreak Worsening – Students Advised Not to Leave the Country During This Period

Deputy Mayor Huang taking questions Taipei City Deputy Mayor Huang Shan-Shan commented during a press interview on the city government’s outbreak prevention efforts on March 16 concerning the issue of students traveling abroad, that the authorities can only offer exhortations to the public due to skepticisms in regard to restricting the people’s freedom of movement. Therefore, the city government hopes the central government can provide additional authorization, but she also stressed that in light of the aggravating COVID-19 outbreak worldwide, it is impossible to ascertain which countries are safe, so she hopes everyone can offer their full cooperation.

A reporter asked if students are banned from leaving the country, to which Huang replied that the local government may place certain restrictions on classes or gatherings in accordance with the Communicable Disease Control Act, but while the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) is active, all local governments must comply with the CECC’s directives, that’s why Taipei City Government is awaiting instructions from the central government. Considering that many students may be returning to Taiwan from abroad, Taipei City Government’s Department of Education (DOE) hopes that citizens do not travel overseas before the summer vacation begins on July 14. She emphasized that all essential overseas travel plans such as international competitions or non-essential travel plans must be reported to the DOE. In other words, it is okay to travel abroad as long as you report your destination and itinerary to the DOE; this is something that the city government hopes the schools can achieve.

Another journalist asked what items should be reported to the DOE (i.e. school’s itinerary or the student’s personal itinerary)? Huang replied that if the student is traveling as part of a school group, of course, consent must be obtained from the school, but if the student is traveling overseas as an individual, he/she should report it to the DOE. A journalist asked what happens if someone insists on going overseas? The deputy mayor commented that the restriction can only be issued by the CECC, once the order is given, relevant punitive measures can be enforced on the transgressors. For the time being, if citizens decide to travel abroad for whatever reason, the city government can only try to persuade them not to do so because the central government has not given the necessary authorization.

Huang reiterated that the central government should issue a nationwide ban because it is not something a local municipality such as the Taipei City Government can tackle alone. Moreover, the key to containing the outbreak is not people leaving the country but those returning, they are the major problem. On the morning of March 16, she had a discussion with Mayor Ko and came to several decisions; firstly, those returning from countries with level 3 travel notice are subjected to house quarantine, so there shouldn’t be a problem; secondly, the problem area lies in those who did not return from countries with level 3 travel notice because they are not subjected to house quarantine and are allowed to come to school. In light of this, the Taipei City Government has decided that all returning citizens including teachers and students should wear surgical masks while they are at school, and students returning from overseas should keep a distance from other students.

The deputy mayor mentioned that students returning from abroad should follow strict self-health management protocols during the 14 days, and if they feel the need to stay at home, the school will allow them to apply for a leave of absence. Furthermore, online teaching will be implemented. In addition, if confirmed cases are discovered, besides suspending the entire class, the city government will coordinate with the Ministry of Education to provide teachers and students with surgical masks. If teachers are subjected to home isolation or self-health management, the city government will provide them with the necessary care. The current SOP for dealing with confirmed cases is to conduct thorough disinfection and cooperate with outbreak investigations. Students and teachers will be notified of the school’s conditions, and the school will allocate teaching staff and provide home isolation care for suspended classes.

When the reporters asked if the restriction on leaving the country has any legal standing, Huang replied that the restriction is based on the Communicable Disease Control Act, which provides the local government with the authority to carry out relevant measures. However, during the outbreak, all local governments must abide by the CECC’s command or instructions, and that’s why she has asked the central government to authorize the local municipalities to implement the necessary punitive measures.