Taiwan premier apologises for government failings in Covid-19 fight

Taiwan's Premier Su Tseng-chang receiving a Covid-19 vaccine shot at the National Taiwan University Hospital in Taipei on March 22, 2021. PHOTO: AFP/CENTRAL EPIDEMIC COMMAND CENTER

TAIPEI (BLOOMBERG) - Taiwan's premier apologised for a second time in two days as the government comes under increasing pressure over its failure to keep the coronavirus at bay.

Premier Su Tseng-chang expressed his regret as he and his Cabinet, including Health Minister Chen Shih-chung, faced questions about a persistent Covid-19 outbreak from lawmakers in Taipei on Wednesday (June 9).

"I regret every life lost," Mr Su said.

"Especially now our citizens have been affected by this outbreak, the government is extremely sorry that it didn't take care of them 100 per cent. Minister Chen and I have apologised for this."

Taiwan's government had been hailed at home and abroad for taking fast action in the early stages of the global pandemic that kept the island largely Covid-19 free throughout 2020 and the first months of this year.

But President Tsai Ing-wen's administration has come in for increasing criticism after a recent surge in cases exposed weaknesses in the government's preparations.

The outbreak highlighted failings in Taiwan's quarantine measures, especially for airline pilots, and quickly overwhelmed limited testing capacity.

It also underlined a lack of vaccines. The government has only managed to acquire just over 2 million doses so far, enough to fully inoculate less than 5 per cent of the 23.5 million population.

Taiwan had just 87 local cases and 12 deaths as at April 30. Since then, health authorities have reported more than 10,000 additional local infections and almost 300 deaths.

Lawmakers largely focused their questions to the premier and health minister Wednesday on the government's inability to secure more vaccines.

Mr Su and Mr Chen attributed Taiwan's difficulties to the fierce international competition with other governments for a limited global supply of doses.

Without sufficient vaccines, the government has implemented a soft lockdown in an effort to slow the spread of the virus, shutting schools, entertainment and recreation facilities and urging companies to allow staff to work from home.

Wednesday's apology followed a more reluctant expression of regret on Tuesday only after lawmakers from the opposition Kuomintang demanded an apology from Mr Su and Mr Chen for the government's handling of the outbreak, threatening to bring a halt to the legislative session if they refused.

Public perception of the government has taken a negative turn since the outbreak. A year ago, the Tsai administration was riding high with a support rating of over 60 per cent on its initial success in controlling the outbreak.

But public support for her has fallen in recent weeks, with several polls in May showing her approval rating to be between 40 per cent and 45 per cent.

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