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Taiwan aims to vaccinate 60% of population by Oct as toll jumps

People wait in line at a COVID-19 vaccination center set up at Far Eastern Memorial Hospital in New Taipei City, Taiwan, on May 13, 2021. (PHOTO/BLOOMBERG)

Taiwan’s COVID-19-related toll surged by almost a third as authorities reported hundreds of more infections, prompting the island’s health chief Chen Shih-chung to signal the outbreak is still not under control after two weeks of social-distancing measures.

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The 19 deaths reported Friday were among people aged between 40 and 90 and occurred between May 21 and May 27, bringing Taiwan’s toll to 78 since the pandemic began. The authorities found 297 new domestic infections Friday and added 258 local cases to previous tallies. “This is not good,” Chen said at his daily briefing.

The island aims to cover 60 percent of its population with at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine by October, said Taiwan's health chief Chen Shih-chung

“The fact that cases are not dropping shows there are still cases in the community. So we should speed up screening in hot areas,” Chen said. “But the number of cases is not surging either, showing that the COVID-19 measures in place are effective. So there is a balance.”

The island aims to cover 60 percent of its population with at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine by October, Chen added.

"If we turn on all the firepower for vaccination, the coverage for the first shot could reach 60 percent," Chen said.

Authorities will use a combination of imported and homemade vaccines to reach that fraction of a population of more than 23 million by the end of October, he said, adding that even coverage of 40 percent would be effective to curb the outbreak.

Taiwan has received fewer than one million doses of nearly 30 million on order, as global supply shortages constrict vaccine deliveries.

The charity of billionaire Terry Gou, founder of Apple Inc supplier Foxconn, said it was preparing to apply for permission to be able to import vaccines.

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Positive cases are currently heavily concentrated in Taipei and its neighboring city.

The first 150,000 doses of more than 5 million ordered from Moderna Inc arrived in Taiwan late afternoon on Friday.

Taiwan is battling its worst-ever outbreak of COVID-19, having made it through 2020 with few deaths or infections. A soft lockdown has shuttered schools, bars and most public facilities, with restaurants only allowed to serve takeout.

Medical worker representatives have said staff are becoming overwhelmed and asking for help. Chen said there are enough hospital wards, but demand is too concentrated in certain areas, and officials are working on the issue.

Taiwan has had 7,315 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Friday,  including 6,136 local infections. All but seven of the reported fatalities contracted the virus in Taiwan.