Taiwan is mobilising its diplomatic corps to secure a speedier delivery of COVID-19 vaccines amid a sudden rise in domestic cases on an island that has vaccinated less than 1 per cent of its population.
- Taiwan’s President says the country hopes to provide domestically developed vaccines before the end of July
- The US says it will send at least 20 million more vaccine doses abroad by the end of June
- Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s government has suspended operations at its representative office in Taiwan amid tensions
Taiwan has reported more than 700 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.
Taiwan, a 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, Hsiao Bi-khim, the de facto Taiwanese ambassador to the US, said.
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.
Mr Biden said the US would send at least 20 million more vaccine doses abroad by the end of June.
The US, 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 program for lower-income countries.
Hong Kong suspends operations in Taiwan
Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s government has suspended operations at its representative office in Taiwan.
Tension between Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed government and Taiwan have risen since pro-democracy protests erupted in Hong Kong in 2019 and China responded by imposing a sweeping national security law in the city that prompted many activists to leave, some for Taiwan.
A Hong Kong government representative did not provide an explanation for the decision to halt operations at the Hong Kong Economic, Trade and Cultural Office, adding only that the decision was not related to the recent rise in coronavirus cases in Taiwan.
“The suspension is not related to the pandemic situation in Taiwan. We do not have anything further to add,” the representative said in a statement.
Taiwan’s government said that while it respected the decision, it also regretted it.
“We express deep regret at today’s unilateral decision by the Hong Kong government,” Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement.
Taiwan has criticised the security law that Beijing imposed in Hong Kong and opened an office in Taipei to help people who may want to leave.
Last year, Taiwan officials in Hong Kong were told their visas would not be renewed unless they signed a document supporting Beijing’s claim to Taiwan under its “one China” policy, a person with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.