TAIPEI, May 27 (Reuters) – Germany’s BioNTech asked Taiwan to remove the word “country” from theirplanned joint announcement on a COVID-19 vaccine sale to the island, its health minister said, as he outlined the collapse of the deal which Taipei blames on China.

Taiwan and China are engaged in an escalating war of words after Beijing separately offered shots to the Chinese-claimed island via Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co Ltd (600196.SS), which has a contract to sell them in Greater China.

Taiwan however has preferred to deal with BioNTech direct.

Taiwan Health Minister Chen Shih-chung told a daily news briefing the government had signed and sent back a “final contract” agreed with BioNTech (22UAy.DE) after months of negotiations, and the two sides were on the verge of issuing a press release on Jan. 8.Report ad

But four hours later “BioNTech suddenly sent a letter, saying they strongly recommend us to change the word ‘our country’ in the Chinese version of the press release,” Chen said.

The government agreed to tweak the wording to “Taiwan” on the same day, he added.

A week later, Chen said, his government was informed by BioNTech the completion of the deal will be delayed due to a “revaluation of global vaccine supply and adjusted timelines”.

“It’s crystal clear to me that the contract was finalised,” he added.

“There’s no problem within the contract. The problem was something outside of the contract,” he said, without elaborating.

BioNTech declined to comment.

China considers Taiwan its own territory and strongly objects to any references that imply Taiwan is a separate country.

Chen’s comments came a day after Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen directly accused China of blocking the deal with BioNTech.Report ad

The German company, which sells its vaccine in partnership with Pfizer Inc (PFE.N), declined to comment on Tsai’s remarks. read more

Taiwan’s medical system is coming under increasing strain due to a spike in domestic infections with only about 1% of the population of more than 23 million vaccinated.

In a piece of good news for Taiwan, the government said the first 150,000 shots out of more than 5 million ordered from Moderna Inc (MRNA.O) would arrive on the island on Friday.

China has repeatedly said its vaccine offer via BioNTech’s Chinese sales agent Fosun is genuine and Taiwan should not put up political roadblocks, nor try and skirt Fosun.

Taiwan does not believe China is sincere in offering it vaccines and thinks Beijing is launching a “political warfare” against the island, officials briefed on the matter told Reuters. read more

Taiwan announced 667 new domestic COVID-19 cases on Thursday, including 266 cases added to previous days’ totals.

It has reported 6,761 infections since the pandemic began, including 59 deaths.Reporting by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Taiwan’s health minister has revealed that two words scuppered a deal for millions of COVID 19 vaccines with Germany’s BioNTech. Chen Shih-Chung says the company requested Taiwan drop the words ‘our country’ from a joint press release set for January the 8th. He said his government agreed to change the wording to just ‘Taiwan’ the same day.

But a week later, BioNTech put the agreement on hold due to a ‘re-evaluation of global vaccine supply and adjusted timelines.’ This explanation comes a day after President Tsai Ing-wen directly accused China of blocking Taiwan’s deal with BioNTech. In response to her statement, BioNTech told News Asia: “We do not provide information on any potential or possible distribution of our vaccine. Our goal at BioNTech is to make the vaccine available to as many people worldwide as possible.”

Meanwhile, only about 1 percent of Taiwan’s population has received a vaccination.

And there’s a growing sense of alarm as the island faces its biggest COVID-19 outbreak yet, after months of keeping the pandemic well under control. The government has ordered a lockdown to curb infections. It’s something many on the island thought they would never see. After more than a year of relative safety, Taiwan is battling its first major domestic outbreak, reporting hundreds of local cases daily. It’s believed that airline pilots brought the U.K. variant to the island last month after quarantine was shortened to just 3 days for crew members. The spread was then accelerated through a network of tea houses in Taipei’s red light district.

The authorities have declared a nationwide Level 3 alert, meaning a soft lockdown.

Public events are called off. Many shops are closed and restaurants can only do takeout. The shopping district in Taipei is virtually a ghost town, while dozens of people queue up for COVID tests at various sites. Hospitals in Greater Taipei are running out of beds and patients will now be sent to other parts of the country for treatment.

The authorities have also taken over hotels to accommodate those with light or no symptoms. So far, Taiwan has only vaccinated around 1% of its 24 million people. Most Taiwanese had been vaccine hesitant before the local outbreak. 10 million doses of vaccines will arrive by August. But until then, the island is likely to remain under soft lockdown. Do not be complacent in the face of a pandemic. It is a lesson learned for Taiwanese.