Taiwan tightens curbs, expects arrival of more COVID vaccines

The island is battling its worst outbreak of the disease since December 2019 and is rushing to accelerate vaccinations.

Taiwan is facing an outbreak of COVID-19 which has forced the government to impose new curbs on everyday activities [Ann Wang/Reuters]

Taiwan was rushing to increase supplies of COVID-19 vaccinations on Wednesday as the government raised its alert level for the whole island following a further increase in domestic cases of the coronavirus.

The island has reported more than 1,000 new cases during the past week, leading to new curbs on personal gatherings and the closure of entertainment venues, after months of keeping the virus at bay through strict border controls and effective testing, tracing and quarantine measures.

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung announced a further 267 cases on Wednesday, compared with 240 on Tuesday, which while low by international standards comes as a shock for a population that has grown accustomed to life continuing almost as normal.

There was no need to order a full lockdown for now, and people should not worry too much, Chen stressed.

“At present, medical capacity is sufficient, so please don’t worry,” he said.

Taiwan’s vaccination campaign has had a sluggish start but the authorities are now stepping up efforts to secure vaccine supplies.

The island expects to receive more than 410,000 doses of the AstraZeneca shot from the COVAX global sharing programme on Wednesday.

Chen described the shots as “very valuable” and said front-line healthcare workers would be first in line for the vaccinations.

Soldiers disinfect Taipei main station following an outbreak of coronavirus disease in Taiwan [Ann Wang/Reuters]

The island has received a little more than 300,000 doses to date, all from AstraZeneca. More than two-thirds of those have been distributed.

Taiwan has said it expected to get more than 1 million AstraZeneca shots via COVAX in total.

Taiwan has ordered 20 million doses, mostly from AstraZeneca but also from Moderna, although global shortages have curtailed supplies.

In a statement on Wednesday, Taiwan’s Centres for Disease Control said vaccines must be fairly distributed.

“Fair access to effective vaccines is the ultimate means to curb the global COVID-19 pandemic,” it said after a virtual workshop on vaccines with the top US, British, Japanese and Australian diplomats in Taipei. “We look forward to more effective and sufficient vaccine development and marketing, and call on all countries to work together to end the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Taiwan is mobilising its diplomats to try to secure more vaccines, and is in talks with the United States for a share of the COVID-19 shots President Joe Biden plans to send abroad.

Brent Christensen, the de facto US ambassador to Taiwan, said at the same event that “talking about COVID-19 vaccines can be a sensitive subject,” according to a copy of his remarks published by his office.

“We recognise that each country and region is at different stages in their COVID-19 vaccination programmes,” the remarks said. “Unfortunately, many still face difficulties gaining access to vaccines.”

Taiwan has reported 2,533 cases since the pandemic began, including 14 deaths.

Source: Reuters