Data Revisions Leave Taiwan Unsure Where Outbreak Is Heading
Taiwan reported a steady increase in Covid-19 cases over the weekend, as the government’s decision to revise up past daily totals dented confidence in official data at a time when soft lockdown measures appear to be slowing the rate of new infections.
Health authorities reported more than 600 new cases at the weekend, 287 on Sunday and 353 on Saturday, and eight additional deaths. But it was officials’ move to change past daily totals, adding 570 infections that had been subject to testing delays, that garnered the most attention.
The revisions sparked debate among Covid watchers, raising questions about the government’s ability to quickly ramp up testing and whether the weekend’s daily totals may also be significantly increased in the coming days.
Like many governments around the world, Taiwan opted for a soft lockdown when it faced a Covid-19 outbreak in the hope of avoiding harsher restrictions that would damage the economy. While a slowing top-line number of cases eased fears of the virus rampaging out of control, confirmed infections among semiconductor and financial industry employees raised concerns of possible manufacturing production cuts and limited market trading.
“If the new number of daily cases remains around 200 over the next week and the situation doesn’t deteriorate suddenly, the market will likely remain in wait-and-see mode,” said Quincy Liu, chairman of Shinkong Investment Trust Co. “It won’t be enough for big gains or big falls. I see the Taiex fluctuating between 16,000 and 16,500 points.”
The benchmark Taiwan Stock Index fell 0.4% to 16,232.07 as of 9:30 a.m. Monday.
The Covid outbreak is among several “rising, but surmountable risks” in Taiwan’s macro outlook, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. strategists including Alvin So wrote in a note Sunday. The bank raised Taiwan to overweight in their Asian allocations, forecasting a 18% return for the Taiex over the next 12 months.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world’s largest contract maker of computer chips, confirmed Saturday one employee had been infected, adding that factory operations remain unaffected. Multiple financial institutions, including Fubon Financial Holding Co., also confirmed employees were among the newly reported infections, and have cut staffing levels in their offices.
The key to whether Taiwan manages to avoid a growth-sapping full lockdown lies in its people, who have been urged to avoid social contact and stay home if possible. In the first weekend of island-wide restrictions, few took to the streets in Taipei, with almost all complying with a compulsory mask mandate. Most restaurants closed or only provided takeaways and deliveries.
Last year, border curbs and the rapid adoption of mask-wearing halted Taiwan’s first outbreak. While that initial success bred the complacency that allowed the latest infections to occur, most people are now taking extra precautions, with even riverside runners mostly wearing masks.
“The number of people on the street this weekend was very low, fewer than there are typically in Taipei around the Lunar New Year,” Shinkong’s Liu said. “This will help the government in its contact tracing. Because of this, in terms of the markets, I don’t see the Taiex plunging 700 to 800 points in a single day like it did the other week.”
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