Taipei, May 15 (CNA) Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) raised the COVID-19 alert level for Taipei and New Taipei cities to Level 3 on Saturday, as well as tightened disease control measures islandwide after reporting 180 new domestically-transmitted cases on the same day.
The new cases, with 43 of them reported in Wanhua district in Taipei and 4 in Luzhou district in New Taipei, indicate that the pandemic is escalating in hot spots in the Greater Taipei area, CECC head and Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said in a press conference led by Premier Su Tseng-chang.
COVID-19 testing sites in the area also saw 3-10 percent test positivity rate, compared with 0.5 percent previously, Chen explained.
As a result, enhanced control measures are necessary for the two cities -- meaning that people are now required to wear masks at all times when they leave their homes, indoor gatherings of more than five people are not allowed, and outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people -- Chen said.
"Given the risk in the area, we must raise the alert level to better control the disease as existing measures will no longer be enough," he said.
The new alert will be effective from today through May 28, the CECC said.
A Level 3 alert, which has been in imposed in Taiwan for the first time, stops short of a lockdown and goes into effect when more than three community clusters are confirmed in a week or over 10 domestic cases of unknown origin are reported in a single day.
Chen did not say whether Taiwan has met the criteria or if the level 3 alert was raised simply because of the large number of cases confirmed today.
While other administrative areas will remain under a level 2 alert, the CECC cautioned that people should refrain from moving between level 2 and level 3 areas to reduce the risk of transmission.
Islandwide, entertainment venues-- including movie theaters, sports centers and libraries-- will be closed, with religious activities carried across cities and counties to be banned, Chen said.
In addition, campuses will be closed to members of the public, but offices and schools will continue operations, Su said.
Asked under what circumstances will the CECC consider raising a level 4 warning, or a lockdown, Chen said the criteria is an average of over 100 new cases for a seven consecutive days.
Under level 4, all public events will be cancelled, meaning that apart from essential services, law enforcement, medical and government services, all in-person work and school will be suspended.
Only designated personnel may enter or exit the lockdown area, while residents must remain in their homes, according to the CECC.
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Health Minister Chen Shih-chung announces tightened measures against COVID-19. From the Cabinet