TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan has asked China to “reinforce lateral communication” after the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) denied receiving messages about Taiwan’s offer to help China combat COVID-19 and claimed that it had contacted Taiwan about adding cross-strait flight destinations.
Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) Commander Victor Wang (王必勝) said on Friday (Jan. 6) that Taiwan has twice expressed to China its willingness to help as outbreaks were being reported all over the country despite official claims. However, TAO Spokesperson Ma Xiaoguang (馬曉光) denied receiving relevant messages from Taiwan during a routine press conference on Wednesday (Jan. 11).
CECC Spokesperson Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥) responded to Ma’s claim, saying the CECC confirmed through email and phone calls that China did receive its communications. The Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said that it did not want to speculate on why the TAO was not updated on relevant activities and asked that the TAO reinforce its internal lateral communication so it can serve its purpose of facilitating cross-strait exchange.
While advocating for more cross-strait flights and destinations during the same press conference on Wednesday, Ma also claimed that China had already contacted Taiwan about its proposal to add flight destinations. However, MAC Spokesperson Chiu Chui-cheng (邱垂正) said the Civil Aeronautics Administration has not received such a proposal.
He asked that the Chinese government reinforce its internal lateral communication to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A ban on electronic cigarettes passed the third legislative reading on Thursday (Jan. 12) in a move to address the increasing popularity of vaping products in Taiwan’s youths.
The sale, manufacture, and supply of e-cigarettes will be outlawed and heated tobacco products (HTPs) will be subjected to tighter regulation, according to an amendment to the Tobacco Hazards Prevention Act (菸害防制法).
Manufacturers or importers of HTPs will have to submit a health risk evaluation report for review before they can receive a permit. Also, advertising of heating devices for such products will be banned.
Other changes involve raising the legal smoking age from 18 to 20, increasing the proportion of tobacco package warning messages from 35% to 50%, and designating childcare centers as well as schools of all levels as no-smoking areas.
The move is hailed as a partial victory for anti-tobacco groups after years of calls for stricter control of cigarettes and novel tobacco products. The last time the Tobacco Hazards Prevention Act was amended was in 2009.
Among the contentious parts of the amendment is how flavored tobacco products are to be regulated. Critics say the change is not bold enough as it only prohibits the use of banned additives, but this can present a loophole as the terminology is vague.
The pace of how juveniles in Taiwan have taken to vaping has been worrying. A survey by the Health Promotion Administration (HPA) indicated that the population of e-cigarette users in junior high schools grew from 1.9% in 2018 to 3.9% in 2021, while that in senior high and vocational schools rose from 3.4% to 8.8% during the same period.
Novelty designs and various flavors appear to be part of the reasons driving up the popularity of vaping products among the young. This can be harmful to health as 90% of such products are found to contain nicotine, said HPA.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) on Thursday (Jan. 12) announced that over 2,000 passengers arriving from China over a period of 10 days tested positive for COVID, which represented nearly 17% of arrivals from China, while the first case of BQ.1 imported from China was reported.
CECC spokesperson Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥) pointed out that out of the 1,948 passengers who arrived from China on Jan. 10, 1,713 tested negative for COVID, while 235 tested positive, representing 12.1%. As for the 88 passengers from China who entered Kinmen and Matsu on Jan. 10, 13 tested positive, accounting for 14.8% of arrivals from China.
Head of the CECC Victor Wang (王必勝) announced that from Jan. 1-10, a total of 13,481 passengers arrived from China at Taoyuan Airport (11,403), Songshan Airport (1,629), Taichung Airport (1), Kaohsiung Airport (138), and Kinmen Shuitou Pier (296), and Matsu Nangang Fu'ao Pier (14). Of these passengers, 2,004 tested positive for COVID, representing 16.9% of inbound passengers from China.
Wang observed that the 16.9% positivity rate was slightly lower than the 19% reported on Monday. He said that the center will continue to monitor the situation and determine whether this downward trend in positive cases will continue.
As for Omicron subvariants detected, Wang said that genetic sequencing on imported cases from China from Jan. 1-7, revealed that 60.2% were infected with BA.5, 38.9% had contracted BF.7, and one case was detected with BQ.1, the first imported from China. Wang said that thus far, the center has not detected any new, unknown variants of COVID arriving from China.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — PX Mart, one of Taiwan’s major retail chains, on Thursday (Jan. 12) rolled out no-inflation deals and bargain bento meals amid rising prices.
In a collaboration with the Council of Agriculture (COA), the initiative will see a section set up in the supermarket's stores where discounted commodities are available. Preferential offers will last for some time after the Lunar New Year, per Agriharvest.
Items marked down include vegetables, rice, chicken, and fish, with further discounts between Friday (Jan. 13) and Sunday (Jan. 15). Over 1,000 PX Mart stores across the country are participating in the event, in a move to help relieve consumers’ burden, said COA.
Meanwhile, PX Mart will soon start providing “happiness bento” meals at NT$60 (US$1.98) and is expected to sell over two million units a year, according to COA Minister Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲). The government is sponsoring the program for those hit hardest by sustained inflation.
The bento boxes will first be available at the 190 stores in the north during lunch and dinner hours. Already such bargain meals are being offered at retail chain Carrefour and some universities and train stations.
Grateful to PX Mart, Chen said the retailer has been lending support to Taiwan’s farmers when they need it most, placing large orders of surplus crops from pineapples to bananas. Last year, PX Mart came to the rescue of local grouper fish farmers with orders of 500 tons of the fish following China’s ban over the alleged presence of prohibited chemicals.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Cabinet on Thursday (Jan. 12) put forward a draft amendment that substantially raises the fine for foreign nationals who overstay their visa, increases the penalty for foreigners who enter the country illegally, and heightens the punishment for people who help harbor or smuggle undocumented workers.
The Cabinet announced 52 amendments to the Immigration Act (入出國及移民法) that must still be approved by the Legislative Yuan to take effect. In a press release, the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) announced a carrot-and-stick approach designed to increase incentives to attract foreign talent to Taiwan, while also raising the penalties and punishments for violations of immigration law.
The MOI said it is enacting new measures to strengthen law enforcement efforts to detect illegal visitors and safeguard national security. This includes steps taken to prevent foreigners from overstaying their visas, curbing illegal activities by foreign nationals, and strengthening border security.
The MOI noted that to prevent foreigners from overstaying their visa, fines will be increased from between NT$2,000 (US$65.84) and NT$10,000 to between NT$30,000 and NT$150,000. In addition, violators will be barred from reentering the country for a maximum of 10 years, up from three years.
Those who hide or harbor foreign nationals who overstay their visa will face fines of NT$60,000 to NT$300,000. People who help foreigners engage in activities not authorized on their visas will face fines of between NT$200,000 and NT$1 million.
People who aid foreigners or Taiwanese without household registration enter the country illegally will face a prison sentence of one to seven years or a fine of up to NT$1 million.
Those who are prohibited from traveling abroad and are found holding forged, altered, or fraudulently used passports or travel documents to go abroad will face a prison sentence of up to three years or a fine of up to NT$90,000 "to deter illegal activities."
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Atomic Energy Council (AEC) Minister Hsieh Shou-shing (謝曉星) has left his position as the Cabinet ruled he should face a sexual harassment investigation, reports said Wednesday (Jan. 11).
After media reports last October alleged Hsieh had used inappropriate language with female AEC staff members, the Cabinet formed a task force that questioned the minister and 15 employees.. Following the three-month investigation, it was found that when making work schedules, Hsieh had shown discriminatory behavior, while at job interviews, he would judge candidates based on their looks, age, height, marriage status, and even their zodiac sign and blood type, per the Liberty Times.
He would also make comments about his staff members’ looks, makeup, and dress, and touch them inappropriately, according to the task force report.
Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said Hsieh had betrayed public trust in a government member and was not suitable to continue as the head of the AEC. He was therefore immediately dismissed, with his case handed over to the Control Yuan, the nation’s top government watchdog, for a new probe.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A tactical unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) made by Taiwan’s National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST) participated in Army drills in Kaohsiung Wednesday (Jan. 11).
By the end of the year, the Army should have taken delivery of 50 drones for the total price of NT$779 million (US$25.59 million) from the military-run manufacturer.
The close-range rotary-wing UAV appeared at Army maneuvers Wednesday simulating the defense of a land-based site against an attack from the air involving the landing of enemy helicopters. The drone first completed a reconnaissance mission, with a sniper shooting down the commanding officer of the attackers, before tanks, armored vehicles, helicopters, and Humvees equipped with missile launchers closed in on the enemy helicopters.
An officer told reporters soldiers needed two weeks of training to handle the drone, which could collect information about the enemy outside the battlefield and transmit it to the military chain of command.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — An unlicensed taxi driver was slapped with a severe punishment on Tuesday (Jan. 10), including a NT$100,000 (US$3,300) fine and a four-month suspension of his driver's license and license plate, after being caught collecting a NT$100 fare for transporting passengers.
The Miaoli Motor Vehicles Office said in a press release that its inspectors, along with police officers, pulled over a suspicious silver sedan near National Miaoli Agricultural and Industrial Vocational High School on Tuesday morning and found that there were three passengers in the car who were all students.
During a subsequent conversation with the inspectors, the driver said the passengers were their friends’ children on their way to school. However, the three passengers said they had collectively paid NT$100 fare to be transported from Miaoli Railway Station to the vocational high school.
The motor vehicles station pointed out that according to Article 77 of the Highway Act, “Those who manage an automobile or trolleybus transportation enterprise without applying for sanction under this Act shall be fined between NT$100,000 and NT$25,000,000 depending on the seriousness of the violation.”
The inspectors gave the driver a NT$100,000 ticket and suspended their driver’s license and license plate for four months in accordance with the regulations.
Su Shu-hsien (蘇淑賢), director of the Miaoli Motor Vehicles Office, said that white-licensed mostly solicit passengers near Miaoli Railway Station and schools. The office, together with the police, will increase surveillance at places where the illegal practices were reported in the hope of protecting the legal rights of taxi drivers, Su continued.
Su added that white-licensed vehicles have no passenger insurance and related insurance, and if an accident occurs, passengers will have no recourse for compensation.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Recently, counterfeit NT$1,000 banknotes have been fluttering around Taiwan, worrying shop owners and stall operators.
A break in the case came today as Kaohsiung City Police Department Criminal Investigation Corps said a wanted criminal surnamed Lin (林) was detained at the end of last year with 33 counterfeit banknotes bearing the same "HR484268XD" serial number.
Police said that Lin, nicknamed A-Hou (阿猴) was also in possession of a variety of drugs with the intent to distribute. His arrest came after he was wanted for extortion and violent threats with charges of negligent injury as reported by BCC.
After an arrest warrant was issued, Lin was finally apprehended as police were tipped off to a man with the same surname engaging in a gun-running and drug trafficking business. He used a dream catcher arcade as his base of operations in Linyuan District, Kaohsiung.
During his arrest, police found ketamine added to 120 instant coffee pouches, heavy machinery to modify and manufacture firearms, and fake banknotes. Upon interrogation, Lin said the counterfeit banknotes were given to him by a deceased migrant worker from Vietnam.
Police dispute his claim as they believe a more likely scenario is that the counterfeiting ring is closely related to the drug trade, as they are quickly expanding their investigation and seeking all possible sources of the counterfeit banknotes.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A section of a rock shed on the Suhua Highway in eastern Taiwan was crushed by a landslide late on Wednesday evening (Jan. 11), blocking traffic on the highway.
A rock shed connecting the Xiulin Township Tunnel in Hualien County to the No. 13 Tunnel (Daqingshui Tunnel) was crushed by a landslide at 11:55 p.m. on Wednesday. The site of the collapse is at the 159.3-kilometer mark on Provincial Highway 9, which is also part of the Suhua Highway.
Directorate General of Highways (DGH) Director-General Chen Wen-juei (陳文瑞) is reportedly rushing to the scene to inspect the damage. Lin Tsung-li (林聰利), deputy director of the DGH was cited by the news agency as saying that the slope that collapsed is made of marble rock.
Lin said that recent earthquakes and frequent rainfall had caused cracks in the rock, leading to the landslide which caused the collapse. Lin estimates that it will take two to three days to clear the shed of debris, but the exact amount of time needed is still being evaluated by on-site repair personnel.
Li shun-cheng (李順成), executive secretary of the DGH's disaster prevention center said that there were no people inside the rock shed when it collapsed based on CCTV footage reviewed by police. Since this area is the same section as the Suhua Highway Improvement Project and the old Suhua Highway, it means that the road corridor between Su'ao Township in Yilan County and Hualien County is impassable.
Presently, the Taiwan Railways Administration is preparing additional local trains and sea transportation services as alternatives. In terms of the progress of repairs, Li said that because space is very limited in the rock shed, it will not be possible to complete repairs within the next one to two days.
He advised members of the public who wish to drive to Hualien, that it would be necessary to detour south to Taitung first, before heading north to Hualien. Other options include public transportation, such as railways and ferries.
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