Taiwan will not act “as cruelly as China” in imposing lockdowns, its premier said Sunday, despite surging coronavirus infection numbers.

The self-governing island recorded more than 10,000 new cases for the first time on Thursday, as the government moves from its zero-Covid strategy and begins living with the virus.

A person walking by Taiwan flag installation ahead of National Day celebrations in Taipei, Taiwan, 06 October, 2021. Photo: Walid Berrazeg/HKFP.

That figure hit 16,936 on Sunday.

Taiwan’s shift leaves neighbouring China — including its financial hub Hong Kong — as the only major economy still sticking to a zero-tolerance policy even as Omicron breaks through defences and forces painful lockdowns.

“We will not lock down the country and cities as cruelly as China,” Premier Su Tseng-chang told reporters before a top government meeting on pandemic prevention.

“Countries all over the world have been opening up to live with the virus. Taiwan… will continue to move towards living normal lives and gradually head to a new phase in epidemic prevention,” he said at the meeting.

The barbed comment from Su — whose ruling party leans towards Taiwanese independence — comes after years of heightened tension between China and the island, which Beijing views as part of its territory.

Taiwan has largely closed its borders and implemented strict quarantine rules throughout the pandemic, keeping infection numbers low.

An outbreak last year prompted the temporary reimposition of economically painful social distancing measures until it was brought under control.

Transmission electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles. File photo: NIAID-RML.

Infections are once again rising but the island’s leaders have signalled they will follow other former zero-Covid economies such as Singapore, Australia and New Zealand by opening up.

Health minister Chen Shih-chung warned last week that Taiwan’s daily case count could more than double to 37,000 in a week.

But, according to Taiwan’s health ministry, more than 99.7 percent of 89,990 infections recorded since January 1 this year have been mild or asymptomatic.

Around 80 percent of the population are double vaccinated, while nearly 60 percent have taken a third shot.

The government has begun a new plan to shorten home isolation for close contacts of Covid-19 cases to three days, down from 10, if a rapid antigen test proves to be negative at the end of the isolation period.

It is also considering relaxing the 10-day quarantine rules for foreign arrivals.

Since the pandemic began Taiwan has reported 132,955 cases and 868 related deaths.

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