How Taiwan handles quarantine and testing for COVID19 for returning citizens

How Taiwan’s quarantine system has prevented community spread without needing a lockdown.

Written from personal experience and observations. If there are any inconsistencies between what is written here and government official guidelines or the Taiwan CDC, assume I am wrong.

Writing this to share my personal experience in quarantine as a returning Taiwanese citizen. The process in place from my observation that seems to have been effective in the containment efforts without evidence of community spread, and without a draconian shutdown as seen across the world.

Initially shared on personal social media, many friends have asked for a more detailed writing for sharing the information, here it is.

I live and work in NYC. I made the personal decision to return to Taiwan on 3/30, on China Airlines’s CI-11 direct from JFK to TPE. While Taiwan has already been internationally well praised for the handling of the response, experiencing it personally left me with an even stronger impression.

At the beginning of the outbreak in Jan, Taiwan successfully contained the first wave coming from China, given the close proximity and how many citizens work in China, it was seen as a strong example around the world. Numbers have stayed relatively low til 3/18 when confirmed cases hit 100 with 1 death.

Since 3/19, Taiwan has been fighting to contain the second wave of the virus coming from citizens returning from Europe and America(like me)who may have be carrying the virus with them.

Starting 3/19, foreign nationals were barred from entering Taiwan. Coming from the U.S., I am marked as a high-risk potential “Imported” case and put into a mandatory quarantine protocol defined by the government.

Graph showing the number of imported cases vs community

Quarantine System

According to this article, there is 55,000 people under the quarantine system right now

After landing, you are greeted by CDC after landing at the airport

You scan a QR code on your phone and input your information.

After inputting your information, you get a text with a link:

Clicking on the link, you input the last 6 digits of your passport number

After uploading your health status (travel history, past symptoms), you are shown your Health Declaration Certificate. If it is orange, you need to contact quarantine staff; If it is green, you can pass. Mine shown orange as below:

At this point, quarantine staff will come to get you, take your passport and ask you to wait a few minutes while you fill out more information and ask you a few questions.

Then the officer gets a group of you and takes you to get your luggage. Then you are taken to the testing center where they hold on to your passport until you finish the test.

Testing Center

People waiting to get tested with their luggage

Line outside testing center

Results come back in a few days. After getting tested and getting your passport back, now you need to find your quarantine transportation.

You are not allowed to take public transportations.

You have 2 options:

  1. Quarantine taxi if you’re going to northern part of Taiwan
  2. Quarantine rental car with a driver (kinda like Uber) to other areas

There’s s counter at the gate that helps you sort out your options. They take the same code you had above and scan it so the government can know how you left the airport and if you got to your destination properly. The driver is instructed to give you guidance on DOs and DO-NOTs during the ride.

You have mainly 2 choices of where to stay.

  1. Home — where your family lives
  2. Quarantine Hotel — government-contracted hotels where an entire floor is allocated for people in quarantine and you cannot leave your room. (Need booking in advance)

Home is the most common case, I chose to stay in a quarantine hotel since I have elderly parents at home I don’t want to risk. However, these quarantine hotels are not easy to find. I know plenty of people who went home and their parents went and stayed at a hotel instead. Either way, the idea is to stay as isolated as possible to reduce the risk of your family.

This is my living space for 14 days:

There’s a bathroom, no kitchen, so the only way for me to eat is to order delivery and have it dropped at my door. Some quarantine hotels provide 3 meals a day but are more expensive. Mine cost 50 USD/day, while others can cost up to 100 USD/day

Same day of arriving at my quarantine hotel, a government health worker came by and dropped off a care package including —

A letter from your mayor with information, numbers to call, and thanking you for cooperating

Face masks, a thermometer, and in my case, a working cell phone since I didn’t have a Taiwan number (there’s also the option to purchase a temp number at the airport to use with your own phone).

Everyday you are required to upload your health status into the Self-Monitoring Reporting System

Email to link to upload my health status

Someone from the local health office will call every day to check up on you. I also received a few calls from the national health officials, and I think the CDC. All to check up on me and answer any questions I may have.

After 3 days of quarantine, I received an email with my test results:

Opening the attachment,

While I’m relieved it was negative, the risk is still non-zero. The quarantine is still mandatory to complete even with negative results. I also received a warning call from the CDC that someone on our same flight was tested positive.

The cell phone provided or if you use your own number, is tracked by the government and police 24/7. Violating your quarantine can be fined for up to 33K USD. Second offense, you will be arrested and taken to a centralized quarantine camp.

On the news, you can see stories of people who went outside for a cigarette, and in 5 minutes cops were there for the arrest already. Someone crossed the street to get some bubble tea and was also caught immediately. A more ridiculous case, someone left their phone at home and went out clubbing and still got busted in the club with a 33K fine and sent to the centralized quarantine center

Once you finished your quarantine, the government will give you about 460 USD to compensate you for cooperating.

I have 10 more days in my quarantine hotel, while its a mostly normal functioning society out there with restaurants, gym, and entertainments mostly open with safety rules in place. Here are a few laws I heard that have been effective:

Mandatory Face Masks/Temperature Check on Public Transportation — you need to wear face mask on public transportation and must have temperature checked to enter. People are also recommended safety distance of 1 meter between each person

Face Masks Ration — In Taiwan, face masks are rationed by the government to prevent hoarding and manage supplies, you need to purchase using your health insurance ID card. Taiwan’s National Health Insurance also has an App that allows you to reserve them in advance at 9 per person every 14 days.

Culture of Cooperation — Taiwan being a very free place, is also known for its strong community values and cooperation for the greater good.

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Update 4/13:

Quarantine Recap, 17 days, 3 tests

A lot have changed since I posted this on my first week of quarantine.

Most notably, our flight had been all over the news as being the most infected flight with 12 people confirmed as of today.

They released the seating chart of the flight, which caused a great deal of anxiety

Due to the flight being so infected, Taiwan CDC decided to test everyone on the flight again. I was bagged in plastic and transported on an ambulance to the ER’s testing site set up outside. Here’s what it looked like:

I was tested again on 4/6 and 4/12, both came back negative via text. Testing included X-Ray, blood test, and swab test

To recap, 17 day quarantine, 3/30 – 4/15

  • 3/30 landed in Taiwan, first test,
  • 4/2 got first results back as negative
  • 4/6 second test,
  • 4/9 got negative results
  • 4/12 third test,
  • 4/15 got negative results

Post Quarantine

Now that I’ve finished quarantine and have been tested negative 3 times. I’m allowed to re-enter society and enjoy a relatively normal life. Although Taiwan is relatively safe, there are still new cases reported on most days. The fight and prevention is far from over.

Hope everyone is stay safe wherever you are in the world.

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For the most up to date, accurate information about Taiwan, refer to Taiwan’s CDC website!

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