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June 23, 2021

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Taiwan: Request to drop word ‘country’ preceded BioNTech vaccine deal collapse

3 min read
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Photo by Kai-Chieh Chan from Pexels

Taiwan’s health minister has revealed that two words scuppered a deal for millions of COVID 19 vaccines with Germany’s BioNTech.

Chen Shih-Chung says the company requested Taiwan drop the words ‘our country’ from a joint press release set for January the 8th.

He said his government agreed to change the wording to just ‘Taiwan’ the same day. But a week later, BioNTech put the agreement on hold due to a ‘re-evaluation of global vaccine supply and adjusted timelines.’ This explanation comes a day after President Tsai Ing-wen directly accused China of blocking Taiwan’s deal with BioNTech.

“There’s no problem within the contract. The problem was something outside of the contract,” he said, without elaborating.

BioNTech declined to comment.

China considers Taiwan its own territory and strongly objects to any references that imply Taiwan is a separate country.

Chen’s comments came a day after Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen directly accused China of blocking the deal with BioNTech.

In response to her statement, BioNTech told News Asia: “We do not provide information on any potential or possible distribution of our vaccine.

Our goal at BioNTech is to make the vaccine available to as many people worldwide as possible.” Meanwhile, only about 1 percent of Taiwan’s population has received a vaccination. And there’s a growing sense of alarm as the island faces its biggest COVID-19 outbreak yet, after months of keeping the pandemic well under control.

The government has ordered a lockdown to curb infections. It’s something many on the island thought they would never see. After more than a year of relative safety, Taiwan is battling its first major domestic outbreak, reporting hundreds of local cases daily.

It’s believed that airline pilots brought the U.K. variant to the island last month after quarantine was shortened to just 3 days for crew members. The spread was then accelerated through a network of tea houses in Taipei’s red light district.

The authorities have declared a nationwide Level 3 alert, meaning a soft lockdown. Public events are called off. Many shops are closed and restaurants can only do takeout. The shopping district in Taipei is virtually a ghost town, while dozens of people queue up for COVID tests at various sites.

Fake news island

As rapid-testing stations sprang up around Taiwan and panic-buying returned, temporarily clearing the instant noodle sections of many grocery stores, fake news also made a comeback. But this time around, many of the posts and messages appeared more believable.

Hospitals in Greater Taipei are running out of beds and patients will now be sent to other parts of the country for treatment. The authorities have also taken over hotels to accommodate those with light or no symptoms.

So far, Taiwan has only vaccinated around 1% of its 24 million people. Most Taiwanese had been vaccine hesitant before the local outbreak. 10 million doses of vaccines will arrive by August. But until then, the island is likely to remain under soft lockdown. Do not be complacent in the face of a pandemic. It is a lesson learned for Taiwanese

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