Bars in Taiwan's capital to close as COVID-19 infections spread

TAIPEI (Reuters) -Taiwan reported a record rise in domestic COVID-19 cases on Friday with 29 new cases and will close bars and nightclubs in the capital, Taipei, as community transmissions in part of city spread.

While Taiwan has reported just 1,291 cases, mostly imported from abroad, out of a population of some 24 million, a recent small rise in domestic infections has spooked residents and the stock market.

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung told a news conference that of the 29 new domestic infections many were connected with an outbreak in Taipei's Wanhua district, a mix of old temples, trendy shops and hostess bars.

Chen called on people who think they may have had contact with infected patients to go to rapid testing stations the government is setting up around Wanhua.

"The sooner testing happens, the sooner the chain of transmission can be broken," he added.

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je said that bars, nightclubs, saunas and karaoke halls would close from Saturday.

The presidential office said a member of staff was in quarantine after meeting family members who had eaten with someone who later tested positive, but added that President Tsai Ing-wen had not had contact with the person and was in good health.

The cluster of infections has been linked by DNA sequencing to an earlier outbreak at an airport hotel and pilots at Taiwan's largest carrier, China Airlines Ltd.

Premier Su Tseng-chang, writing on his Facebook page, said there was no need to raise the island's COVID-19 alert level for the time being.

Comments by Chen on Wednesday that the alert level could soon be raised, which would potentially close all non-essential businesses, prompted a steep fall on the stock market, and officials have since downplayed the chances of that happening.

Taiwan has never gone into full lockdown.

($1=27.9140 Taiwan dollars)

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Jeanny Kao; Editing by Michael Perry, Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie)