The Taiwanese government announced Wednesday that they have agreed to buy almost 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, 10 million of which will be from AstraZeneca. Taiwan also confirmed the island’s first case of the more contagious variant of COVID-19 that was recently discovered in the UK.

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Why it matters: In an effort to prevent the spread of the highly contagious strain, Taiwanese Health Minister, Chen Shih-chung announced on Wednesday that foreign visitors will be barred from entering Taiwan from January 1 onwards, with the exception of resident visa holders, diplomats, business people with special entry permits, spouses and children of Taiwanese citizens, those approved under humanitarian considerations, and other persons with special entry permits.

Taiwan has kept the pandemic well under control since the beginning by imposing strict quarantine measures on all arrivals. Imported cases account for almost all of its tally of 798 cases.

By comparison, Taiwan has suffered minimal economic impact from the pandemic, when compared to other industrialised countries around the world. Research conducted by found that Taiwan recorded a mere 0.6% contraction in GDP in the second quarter of 2020 (April to June). The purchase of COVID-19 vaccines indicates a desire to rid the island of the virus once and for all. 

The identified victim is currently in hospital, and is in stable condition after having arrived back on Sunday from Britain and confirmed to have been infected, Chen told reporters.

Of the 20 million doses of vaccines they are acquiring, 4.76 million doses will be through the COVAX global initiative and 10 million doses will come from AstraZeneca.

More details: Health Minister, Chen Shih-chung told reporters he “really hoped” there would be a “vaccine passport” system put in place that would easily identify air travellers who have taken a COVID-19 vaccine, including the Astra Zeneca vaccine, reported Nikkei. 

“This is something we are proactively considering,” he said.

Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) is taking a three-pronged approach to meeting the country’s vaccination needs, including investment in international initiatives, purchasing directly from manufacturers, and domestic production.

Starting on January 15, passengers must present proof that they have arranged accommodation at a quarantine facility, such as a quarantine center or an official quarantine hotel, prior to boarding a flight to Taiwan. The facility may only contain one person.

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Looking ahead: The CECC explained that they have not begun mass inoculation yet due to unspecified uncertainties regarding the experimental vaccines being used in other countries.

Chen estimates that the CECC will begin inoculating Taiwanese residents with the newly acquired vaccines by March 2021. The Taiwanese government is also still in discussions with several other foreign vaccine makers aside from AstraZeneca who have entered Phase III trials.

The CECC plans to purchase enough doses to inoculate approximately 65 percent of Taiwan’s population of just under 24 million people. If each person would require two doses to become fully immune to COVID-19, approximately 30 million doses will be needed to reach this level of herd immunity.

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