Taiwan reported 267 domestic Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, prompting the government to raise the alert for the entire island to level three in a four-tier system and call for fair access to vaccines to cope with its shortage.
Of the new cases, 70 were in Taipei and 129 in New Taipei, with the youngest infected person under five years of age and the oldest over 80, according to Health Minister Chen Shih-chung.
The new cases took the number of locally transmitted infections to 1,291 for the past nine days and to 1,386 since the pandemic began. There were also eight imported cases on Wednesday, taking the combined total to 2,533, with 14 deaths.
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Beside the two cities most affected, cases were reported in Taoyuan, Taichung, Changhua, Tainan and Kaohsiung, Chen said.
“With the increase in the number of cities and counties recording new cases, we have decided to raise the alert to level 3 for all of Taiwan,” he said, adding that people must follow the strict anti-pandemic rules and refrain from going to venues where there is a high risk of being infected.
The Central Epidemic Command Centre issued a level 3 alert for Taipei and New Taipei on Saturday.
To handle the spike in infections, Chen said health authorities would from Thursday hold daily meetings to ensure city and county governments were coordinating their efforts to contain the disease and distribute medical resources.
On the shortage of vaccines, he said a new shipment of 400,000 doses of the AstraZeneca product would arrive on Wednesday afternoon.
“They could be administered in a week’s time,” he said, adding that high-risk groups, including frontline medical personnel, would be the first to receive them.
Taiwan has signed contracts to buy more than 5 million doses of the US-made Moderna vaccine and 10 million doses of AstraZeneca, as well as 4.76 million doses of unspecified brands through the Covax Facility, which has allocated more than 1 million AstraZeneca shots to Taiwan. A locally developed vaccine is expected to become available in July.
About 300,000 AstraZeneca shots had arrived as of Wednesday. As of Tuesday, more than 220,000 of Taiwan’s 23.5 million people had had a first dose but there are currently insufficient supplies for them to have a second.
After taking part in a virtual workshop on vaccines on Tuesday with diplomats from the US, Britain, Japan and Australia, Taiwan’s Centres for Disease Control issued a statement on Wednesday saying the supply of vaccines should be ensured.
“Fair access to effective vaccines is the ultimate means to curb the global Covid-19 pandemic. 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,” it said.
Brent Christensen, America’s de facto envoy to Taiwan, said at the event that many countries and regions were facing difficulties accessing vaccines.
“But we gather together today to share experiences and learn lessons from those experiences as partners in global health,” he said.
He also expressed his support for Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Assembly, saying “as the global pandemic continues, the world cannot afford to exclude any population from the international health system”.
Taiwan has been pushing to attend a virtual meeting of the WHA to be held from May 24 to June 1, but has yet to receive an invitation from the World Health Organization due to objections from Beijing.
The disease has spread to at least five hospitals in Taiwan, including its most prestigious, the National Taiwan University Hospital, which on Wednesday reported 10 cases involving non-medical employees.
In the past few days, thousands of residents have visited testing stations and hospitals for Covid-19 tests, with those testing positive going into self-isolation or quarantine.
On Wednesday, the government introduced a unified QR code system to help people register for contact tracing. Since the alert level was raised, some shops, restaurants and other businesses introduced their own QR codes and required all customers to register with their real names, but people complained that this was confusing and time-consuming.
“All the public needs is to scan the QR code provided by the government for the business outlets and press the send button,” Digital Minister Audrey Tang said.
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