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Tests and mask for U.S. health chief on Taiwan visit

Credit: REUTERS/TOM BRENNER

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and his delegation will have to be tested for the novel coronavirus before getting to Taiwan and again when they arrive, and they must wear masks, a government official said on Thursday.

Adds date of arrival of Azar, paragraph 9

TAIPEI, Aug 6 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and his delegation will have to be tested for the novel coronavirus before getting to Taiwan and again when they arrive, and they must wear masks, a government official said on Thursday.

Azar's will be the most senior U.S. official to visit Taiwan in four decades - a trip that has angered China, which claims the democratic island as its own. Washington broke off official ties with Taipei in 1979 in favour of Beijing.

Taiwan has won praise for its steps to control the coronavirus, including strict border quarantine controls and the widespread wearing of masks, which have won broad public support.

Taiwan Centres for Disease Control Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang told reporters that members of the U.S. delegation would be tested before leaving for Taiwan, and again upon entry at the airport.

Only if they are negative will they be allowed in.

"They must wear masks at all times," Chuang said.

"There are rules on where they can go," he added, saying that Taiwan's often crowded night markets would not be on the list for private visits.

The members of the U.S. delegation, when meeting government officials, will also have to maintain social distancing, Chuang said. They will also use dedicated elevators "to avoid any risks", he said.

Azar's visit will begin on Sunday, Taiwan Cabinet spokesman Evian Ting told the same briefing.

He is scheduled to meet President Tsai Ing-wen as well as Health Minister Chen Shih-chung.

Taiwan has reported 477 cases of the coronavirus and seven deaths. Most cases have been imported, and only a small number of people remain in hospital or isolation.

The United States has more coronavirus cases and deaths than any other country, and the wearing of masks has become a heated political issue, with some people objecting to what they see as an infringement of personal freedom.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard Editing by Robert Birsel)

((ben.blanchard@thomsonreuters.com;))

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