Taiwan said it would prioritise medical and other frontline workers as it began administering the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines it received last week, after reporting a further 671 infections and a record 13 deaths on Thursday. The new cases included 401 local and four imported infections, plus 266 that had been delayed by reporting problems last week, the Central Epidemic Command Centre said. They took the death toll to 59 and total cases to 6,761, it said. Chen Tsung-yen, the centre’s deputy chief, told a news conference on Thursday about the latest round of inoculations. “The new doses will be administered in two stages, with the first 150,000 given to medical personnel and frontline workers beginning today,” he said. Covid-19 vaccines: Beijing blocked Taiwan’s deal with BioNTech, Tsai Ing-wen says Taiwan took delivery of 410,000 shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine last week and completed inspection of them on Wednesday night, he said. The latest vaccination drive would focus on Taipei and New Taipei – the two cities at the centre of the outbreak – before being rolled out to other parts of the island from June 10, Chen said. Before the recent spike in infections there was little enthusiasm among Taiwanese people to get inoculated. But since crowds began flocking to vaccination centres the authorities have struggled to secure sufficient supplies. The island, which is home to about 23.5 million people, has signed deals to buy 10 million shots of the AstraZeneca, 5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine and more than 4.7 million doses via the Covax Facility . However, it has so far received only 720,000 AstraZeneca shots – all of them via Covax and including the latest arrivals – and less than 1 per cent of its population has been vaccinated. Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said on Wednesday that Beijing had been instrumental in preventing the island from signing a deal to buy vaccines directly from German firm BioNTech. The mainland’s Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group on Saturday repeated an offer it first made in March to supply Taiwan with BioNTech vaccines. Taipei rejected the initial offer, saying it would discuss the procurement issue directly with the German company. Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office also said two non-governmental bodies in Shanghai and Jiangsu had agreed to donate a batch of vaccines to Taiwan. Two branches of the Red Cross Society of China in Fujian province said on Thursday they were willing to donate Covid-19 vaccines to Quemoy (also known as Kinmen) and Matsu, two offshore islets controlled by Taiwan, Xinhua reported. In the past week Taiwanese politicians have called on the government to accept the mainland’s offer of BioNTech vaccines, saying there politics should not get in the way of dealing with the spike in infections. “The government is obliged to acquire vaccines for the public … but when it is unable to get enough doses to vaccinate its people, it should never block the efforts of others in getting them,” Johnny Chiang, the chairman of the main opposition Kuomintang party, said on Thursday. His comments came after the governments of Nantou in central Taiwan and Quemoy said they would seek to purchase BioNTech vaccines from the mainland – a plan that was rejected by the command centre on the grounds that buying pharmaceutical products from the mainland is illegal. Taipei’s deputy mayor Huang Shan-shan said Taiwan was fighting an uphill battle to fight the coronavirus and vaccines were the best ammunition. “But now the vaccine purchase became a political issue. This is absurd,” she said. Taiwan’s Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said on Thursday the command centre was charged with buying the vaccines and anyone who wanted to import vaccines must obtain a permit from the health authorities and go through the strict screening of the doses before they could be released. “The command centre is also responsible for the release of Covid-19 vaccines in Taiwan,” he said. Taiwan almost reached a deal with BioNTech to buy vaccines in January but failed at the last minute due to an “outside factor”, he said, in reference to Beijing. On the mainland’s offer of BioNTech shots, Chen said that was lip service in the absence of official authorisation from the German firm. “Only with such authorisation would we be able to negotiate the deal, but until now we have seen nothing,” he said. Zhu Fenglian, spokeswoman for the mainland’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said on Thursday that it was “typical” of Tsai and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to shift the blame to Beijing. “Everybody knows that Shanghai Fosun signed a deal with Germany’s BioNTech in March 2020 for the exclusive rights for Fosun to develop and commercialise the vaccines in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan,” she said, adding that the DPP had breached international business regulations by trying to bypass Fosun and strike a deal with the German firm directly.