Downgrade COVID-19 disease category: travel agents

  • By Shelley Shan / Staff reporter

The government should downgrade COVID-19 from a category 5 to a category 4 communicable disease to reduce business risks borne by overseas travel operators, travel agents said yesterday.

While the Central Epidemic Command Center has eased quarantine requirements and waived mandatory polymerase reaction chain tests for citizens and residents returning to Taiwan, and the Tourism Bureau is expected to soon lift the ban on outbound and inbound tours, travel agents said they are not too eager to organize overseas tours, as Japan, South Korea and other countries that have opened their borders have reported a resurgence of COVID-19 cases caused by the highly contagious Omicron BA.5 subvariant of SARS-CoV-2.

Return trips could be disrupted if the tour guide or tour member tested positive for COVID-19, which would mean they would have to spend a few more days abroad, they said.

Travelers still need to undergo three days of quarantine and four days of self-initiated disease prevention upon their return, they added.

Travel Agent Association vice chairman Chang Yung-chen (張永成) told the Taipei Times that downgrading COVID-19 from a category 5 to a category 4 communicable disease is the solution to reducing the risks faced by overseas tour operators.

“Downgrading the disease would make it no different from a cold, and those contracting the virus need not be quarantined anymore,” Chang said. “I believe this is what the government should do when COVID-19 cases at home and abroad show signs of improvement. Otherwise, we simply cannot keep up with all potential risks involved in organizing overseas tours.”

In other news, travel agents have asked the Tourism Bureau to intervene, as many insurance companies have stopped offering overseas medical insurance to travelers.

Travel Quality Assurance Association chairman Louis Hsu (許禓哲) told reporters at a media luncheon on Tuesday that almost all insurance firms have stopped offering such products after having to pay about NT$41 billion (US$1.37 billion) in compensation for COVID-19 policies.

“We hope the Tourism Bureau can help by talking to insurance companies. Otherwise, who is going to pay for the medical expenses of tourists even after they are allowed to join overseas tours,” Hsu said.

Insurance firms can offer insurance plans similar to those offered to tourists joining tours to Palau, with which Taiwan signed a quarantine-free travel corridor agreement last year, he said, adding that the plan covered additional expenses incurred after contracting the virus.

Chang said that Taiwan should learn from the Japanese government by making travel health insurance available to tourists.

“We will continue to communicate with insurance firms and the Non-Life Insurance Association about this matter to protect travelers,” the bureau said.

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