TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan will introduce social distancing measures to help control the coronavirus but will not yet punish people who fail to comply, the health minister said on Tuesday.

Taiwan has been successful at limiting its number of cases thanks to early prevention and a good public health system but it has faced a large rise in recent weeks as people who were infected overseas come to the island.

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said the social distancing steps would require people in public spaces to maintain a 1 meter (3.3 feet) distance between each other outside, and 1.5 meters inside.

If this is not possible, for example in busy train stations, then people must make sure they wear face masks, he said.

“This is a suggestion, but I think people can do it,” Chen told a news conference.

More details would be announced on Wednesday, he added.

People have generally been quite good at following virus prevention advice so far but if needed stronger measures can be applied, he said.

“As I’ve always said, if a special situation comes about, we can use tough methods, with corresponding punishments.”

Taiwan’s Centres for Disease Control has already been enforcing the distancing rules for reporters at its daily news conference, and masks are widely worn across the country with government-guaranteed supplies.

Taiwan has a harsh system of fines for people who are undergoing mandatory 14-day quarantines and who leave their homes without permission. They can be issued fines of up to T$1 million ($33,000).

All people returning to Taiwan from overseas now have to complete a compulsory two-week quarantine period.

Taiwan has reported 322 cases, including an additional 16 new patients on Tuesday, and five deaths, a far smaller number than many of its neighbors.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard)

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