More than 100 million COVID-19 rapid test kits are expected to be delivered by the end of this month, a Ministry of Health and Welfare official said yesterday.
Tsai Shou-chuan, head of the ministry’s Department of Secretarial Affairs, told a meeting of the legislature’s Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee that the government has ordered about 195 million Roche-brand and 50 million Abbott-brand rapid test kits.
About 65 million Roche and 30 million Abbot test kits, plus 37.5 million of other brands, should be delivered by the end of this month, Tsai said in response to questions by Taiwan People’s Party Legislator Ann Kao (高虹安).
Demand for rapid tests has skyrocketed in Taiwan due to a surge in domestic COVID-19 infections, which has strained the nation’s capacity to administer polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.
Attention has turned to rapid tests, but they have been in short supply, forcing the government on April 28 to launch a rationing scheme, with each National Health Insurance cardholder allowed to purchase one box containing five rapid test kits on designated days. However, the program has come under fire because of the long lines and waiting times, with each pharmacy receiving only 78 boxes per shipment.
In other news, this year’s first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived yesterday morning at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said, adding that the vaccine would be offered first as a booster shot for adolescents aged 12 to 17.
The 1,857,960 doses of vaccine have been transported to a logistics center for storage and lot release testing, the CECC said, adding that the vaccines have an expiration date of Oct. 4.
As most of the adolescents aged 12 to 17 received a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as their first and second doses, the new batch of vaccine would be given to them first as their booster shot, said Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center.
The Ministry of Education is to conduct a vaccination willingness survey of students and their parents, and vaccinations on campus are expected to begin later this month, he added.
On the issue of border controls, Chen said the problem with easing regulations is not limited to concern over the spread of the virus, but also the risk that it would increase the burden on the country’s medical system.
“However, by July, we should be well past the peak of the outbreak and have more sufficient healthcare capacity,” Chen told reporters, adding that at that time, relaxing the policy would be “less of a problem.”
Asked if that meant the nation’s outdoor mask mandate could also be eased in July, Chen replied: “Of course.”
“We hope that some parts of [the mandate] will not be lifted so quickly, but we should be able to slowly ease the rules for outdoor or open settings,” he said.
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