TAIPEI: Taiwan reported 240 cases of domestically transmitted cases of COVID-19 and two more deaths on Tuesday (May 18), as it shifted all classes online to tackle a spike in coronavirus cases.
Taiwan has reported almost 1,000 new domestic infections during the past week, leading to new curbs in the capital, Taipei, and shocking a population that had become accustomed to life carrying on almost normally, with the pandemic well under control.
Education Minister Pan Wen-chung told reporters that starting Wednesday, all schools across the island would be closed until May 28, with classes held online.
Speaking at the same news conference, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung announced 240 new domestic COVID-19 cases, down from the 333 reported on Monday. He also announced two new deaths, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 14.
Chen cautioned that the smaller increase in cases did not mean the virus had been brought under control.
"We don't view this with optimism," he added.
However, Chen said, most of the cases being reported were mild ones.
Taiwan has reported a total of 2,260 infections since the start of the pandemic.
DIPLOMATS MOBILISED TO SECURE VACCINES
Taiwan - which has vaccinated less than 1 per cent of its population - is also mobilising its diplomatic corps to secure a speedier delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.
The major semiconductor manufacturing hub has only received about 300,000 shots so far for its more than 23 million people, all AstraZeneca vaccines, and those are rapidly running out.
In comments published on Tuesday by Taiwan's official Central News Agency, Taipei's top official in Washington said she was in talks with the United States for a share of the COVID-19 vaccine doses President Joe Biden plans to send abroad.
"We are in negotiations and striving for it," said Hsiao Bi-khim, the de facto Taiwanese ambassador to the United States.
She said that although vaccine purchases were the remit of Taiwan's health ministry, her office's role was to talk to the United States about speeding up those requests.
Biden said the United States would send at least 20 million more vaccine doses abroad by the end of June.
A source briefed on the situation told Reuters the US government had already been helping Taiwan coordinate with manufacturers to speed up deliveries.
The United States, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic relations with Chinese-claimed Taiwan, but is its most important international backer.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, speaking on Tuesday, said they hoped to provide domestically developed vaccines before the end of July, and that more imported ones were on the way.
"Vaccines that we purchased through various channels will gradually arrive from overseas. Everyone, please don't be worried," she said.
Taiwan has ordered 20 million doses, mostly from AstraZeneca but also from Moderna, though global shortages have curtailed supplies.
Taiwan has said it also expected to get more than 1 million AstraZeneca shots via the COVAX vaccine-sharing programme for lower-income countries.
A second source familiar with the matter said Taiwan's diplomats in Germany had been involved in talks with BioNTech.
Taiwan complained in February the firm had pulled out of a deal to sell it 5 million doses at the last minute, possibly because of Chinese pressure. BioNTech later said it did plan to provide COVID-19 vaccines to Taiwan.
BioNTech declined to comment on the status of the talks.
Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou also declined to comment on details of getting vaccines.
"We are making great efforts and trying through all means to get the qualified vaccines for our people and residents," she said.