TAIPEI: A surge of coronavirus infections in Taiwan, one of the world's COVID-19 mitigation success stories, has left it scrambling to get vaccines as its stock of 300,000 doses starts running out with only about 1 per cent of its 23 million people vaccinated.
The island reported another 333 new domestic COVID-19 cases on Monday (May 17), amid a rise in community transmissions.
Taiwan has been a model of how to control the pandemic since it began and life had carried on almost as normal with none of the lockdowns and overwhelmed hospitals seen elsewhere, thanks largely to effective case tracking and closed borders.
But over the past week it has reported more than 700 domestic cases, out of a total of 2,017 infections recorded since the pandemic began. In all, 12 have died of COVID-19 on the island.
Tough new restrictions have been imposed in the capital, Taipei, for the first time as authorities fear an increasing number of cases.
While Taiwan has begun vaccinations, it has only received about 300,000 shots, all AstraZeneca ones, having been caught up in the global shortage despite having 20 million on order, including from Moderna.
Health authorities last week stopped giving shots to people who are not on priority lists that include the elderly and medical staff.
Taipei's de facto ambassador in the United States, Hsiao Bi-khim, in comments published on Saturday by Taiwan's official Central News Agency, said she had been pressing Moderna to ensure the vaccines arrive on schedule before the end of June.
"Our people's expectations for vaccines (are) rather urgent," she said.
Moderna and AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said last week more vaccines would be arriving from next month, though she gave no details. Domestically developed vaccines are also due by July.
Health Minister Chen Shih-chung told reporters on Monday that there was "no new progress" to report on the arrival of more vaccines.
One government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the issue of vaccines was both "sensitive and confidential", which was why few details had been made public.
Taiwan's main opposition Kuomintang party has called for more transparency on when vaccines are due to arrive, but also for the world to ensure that the island, a major semiconductor maker, gets priority help.
"Taiwan's pandemic is related to the stability of the global electronic product supply chain," party chairman Johnny Chiang said on Sunday.
A further concern for the government has been China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory and has a deep antipathy towards Tsai, whom it believes to be a separatist, which she denies.
China has been shipping supplies of its domestically developed vaccines around the world and has offered them to Taiwan via the COVAX global sharing scheme.
Taiwan law does not permit the use of Chinese vaccines.
A security official looking into Chinese activity on the island told Reuters the security services had been told to focus on what the government believes is "cognitive warfare" by China to "create chaos" and undermine public trust in the government's handling of the pandemic.
"Messages criticising the government are being circulated on social media," the person said.
"They are trying to highlight the efficacy of the Chinese vaccines and how the government is blindly pinning its hopes on vaccines from the United States and homemade vaccines, leaving the lives of citizens in the lurch."
China's Taiwan Affairs Office did not respond to requests for comment.