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Taiwan raises COVID alert islandwide, but gets vaccine boost

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By Reuters
Taiwan calls for fair access to vaccines amid COVID spike
Taiwan calls for fair access to vaccines amid COVID spike   -   Copyright  (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2021. Click For Restrictions -

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TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan raised its COVID-19 alert level for the whole island on Wednesday as domestic cases continued to rise, but will get 400,000 more AstraZeneca Plc COVID-19 vaccine doses from the COVAX global sharing programme.

Taiwan has reported more than 1,000 new infections during the past week or so, leading to new curbs in the capital, Taipei, and shocking a population that had become accustomed to life carrying on almost normally.

Announcing another 267 local infections, up from 240 on Tuesday, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said that although the across Taiwan.

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

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

The new curbs for Taiwan restrict personal gatherings and close entertainment venues, steps already in effect in Taipei since the weekend.

In a boost for Taiwan’s fight against the pandemic, Chen said more than 410,000 vaccine doses from COVAX would arrive Wednesday afternoon, which he described as “very valuable” and would be prioritised for front-line health care workers.

It has only 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 Inc, though global shortages have curtailed supplies.

In a statement on Wednesday, Taiwan’s Centres for Disease Control said after a virtual workshop on vaccines on Tuesday with the top U.S., British, Japanese and Australian diplomats in Taipei that vaccines must be fairly distributed.

“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.

Taiwan is mobilising its diplomats to try to speed up access to 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 U.S. 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.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee. Editing by Gerry Doyle)