The new curbs prompted fears that economic growth could stall out, leading to stock sell-offs in both countries this week. Low vaccination rates in both countries are contributing to concerns that their populations could be vulnerable if faster-spreading variants take hold.
In Taiwan, indoor gatherings will be limited to fewer than 100 people and outdoor events capped at 500 for the next four weeks, Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control said in a statement Tuesday. It’s the first time the island has tightened anti-Covid measures since it began easing curbs mid-last year, and comes after the government reported seven new cases in the community and four in travelers from overseas.
Singapore -- the city-state that is ranked the best place to be in the coronavirus era by Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking -- has also been tightening up restrictions amid a sudden recurrence of local infections, limiting social gatherings and upping border curbs. The co-chair of Singapore’s virus task force, Lawrence Wong, said Tuesday that companies looking to bring in foreign workers from higher-risk nations could face delays of more than six months because of the greater vigilance. The country has also begun mass testing all hospital staff in an attempt to fence off infections, after a cluster of cases emerged at a medical center.
The two places are among the handful in the world that have virtually eliminated Covid domestically, among them Australia, New Zealand and China -- where cases of the new coronavirus first emerged more than a year ago. The return to tighter curbs risks disrupting what has been months of largely normal social activity in Taiwan and Singapore should the outbreaks persist.
Taiwan has been so successful at keeping Covid-19 in check that it’s struggling to persuade its population to get vaccinated, with less than 1% inoculated thus far. Singapore has done better, at 19%, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. Higher rates would let both countries confidently open up to international travelers.
While having a zero tolerance approach to infections has meant very few deaths in these places, they’re now lagging countries like the U.S. and Israel on vaccination, which could put them at a disadvantage as parts of the world start to open up to international travel.
Read more: Singapore Goes on Defensive as Virus Success Status at Risk
After an initial outbreak of cases very early in the pandemic, Taiwan has managed to basically keep the virus out, even going more than eight months without a single domestic infection between April and December. The island has had just over 1,200 cases and 12 deaths in total since Covid-19 first emerged.
Taiwan’s success has meant it never imposed stringent restrictions internally, like lockdowns. Businesses, government offices and schools have remained open throughout much of the pandemic, although municipal authorities canceled their usual large-scale Lunar New Year holiday celebrations in February as a precaution.
In recent weeks, health authorities in Taiwan have been battling a steady rise in infections centered around a hotel used to quarantine pilots for local carrier China Airlines returning from overseas. Investors showed their concern by selling Taiwanese shares, with the benchmark Taiex index falling almost 3.8% Tuesday, the biggest decline among Asian markets. The Taiwan dollar weakened by the most since March 26.
Elsewhere in Asia, cases are also coming back, with India now the epicenter of the global crisis, recording more than 329,000 new cases Tuesday. Malaysia is tightening curbs on people’s movements across the country after daily cases exceeded 3,000 this month for the first time since February.
The detection of the one case with Indian Covid-19 variant has added to the risk, and Malaysia is struggling with the pace of vaccinations. Less than 3% of the population had completed their vaccination series as of May 9, data compiled by Bloomberg show. That tally trails Indonesia and Singapore, and puts Malaysia at risk of falling short of its vaccination target for the year.
The absence of widespread infections and an export-driven economy meant Taiwan avoided the impact seen in most of the rest of the world from the pandemic.
The economy grew 3.1% last year, driven by a surge in demand for Taiwan’s computer chips but also supported by a rebound in consumer spending. The government has hinted in recent weeks it may raise its 2021 gross domestic product forecast to above 5% from its current estimate of 4.6%.- Bloomberg