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Taiwan welcomes foreign tour groups as border fully reopens

Taiwan has welcomed its first batch of international tour groups after the island fully reopened its borders, ending strict quarantine rules in place since the coronavirus pandemic began.

A group of tourists from Thailand arrived shortly after midnight and were greeted at Taoyuan airport with flower garlands and an exuberant dancing bear mascot.

Valaisurang Bhaedhayajibh, 53, said she was visiting Taiwan the first time in 20 years and was accompanied by her daughter Sisiree.

"I heard about the lakes and all the nature, and also shopping. She's on her school break so I am bringing her over here," she told AFP.

"It's very convenient. We didn't have to do anything much, you know, in terms of preparation. But we got vaccinated and everything."

Pairry Kalong, another Thai tourist, said she planned to eat hot pot "first thing" as well as visit Ximending, Taipei's neon-lit shopping district.

Tanachot Jaiungwattana said he was last in Taiwan shortly before the pandemic sealed the borders.

"I miss here very much," he said. "I love the people and food."

Taiwan has won praise for how it handled the pandemic, although like nearby Japan and Hong Kong it has been very cautious in reopening.

As most countries vacillated on restricting travel at the start of the pandemic and saw deaths soar, Taiwan quickly shut its borders and stamped out the first wave.

It remained comparatively coronavirus-free at the expense of closed borders. Tourism industries suffered badly but the island's export-driven economy continued to grow.

Like Hong Kong and Japan, which also reopened to tourists recently, Taiwan is among the last places in the world to end mandatory quarantine.

Mainland China is the last remaining major economy that is still keeping its

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