TAIPEI (REUTERS) - Mr Terry Gou, the billionaire founder of Taiwan's Foxconn, along with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), reached initial agreements to each buy five million doses each of BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine on Friday (July 2), three sources with knowledge of the situation told Reuters.
Taiwan's government has tried for months to buy the shots directly from Germany's BioNTech and has blamed China, which claims the self-ruled island as its own territory, for blocking a deal the two sides were due to sign earlier this year. China denies the accusations.
Last month, facing public pressure about the slow pace of Taiwan's inoculation programme, the government agreed to allow Mr Gou and TSMC to negotiate on its behalf for the vaccines, which would be donated to Taiwan's government for distribution.
Mr Gou and TSMC reached the agreements with a subsidiary of Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group, which has a contract with BioNTech to sell the Covid-19 vaccines in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, the sources said.
The deal is not final and will still take some time to close, one source said.
It includes "related legal documents" needed to finalise the deal but does not specify a delivery date, as global demand for vaccines continues to outstrip supply, this source said. The vaccines will be shipped directly to Taiwan from the German manufacturer, the source added.
Taiwan's government has said any BioNTech vaccines should be "produced in the original factory with the original packaging" and be directly delivered to Taiwan. Fosun did not respond to a request for comment.
Foxconn, a major Apple supplier, said it was continuing to "work hard" on the vaccine purchase plan. It did not elaborate. TSMC said in a brief e-mailed statement it was still a work in progress and "no further information is available at this time". BioNTech declined to comment.
Taiwan Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said on Saturday the government was very thankful for the hard work Foxconn and TSMC were putting into getting the shots but that buying vaccines was "quite difficult" and the process challenging.
Another source said the German government, which has said it was trying to help Taiwan obtain the BioNTech vaccines, had been trying to speed up the talks.
"The German government doesn't want to leave the impression that they didn't sell vaccines to Taiwan due to the Chinese pressure, so it has been pushing the company to speed up its talks with Taiwan," the source said, referring to BioNTech. The German Foreign Ministry declined to immediately comment.
Both sources said that although global supplies are tight, Fosun, as an exclusive dealer for the vaccine in China and Taiwan, is able to secure higher priority for the vaccine distribution. Only around 9 per cent of Taiwan's 23.5 million people have received at least one of the two-dose Covid-19 vaccine regimen, a need made more urgent by a spike in domestic infections on the island, though numbers remain relatively small.