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Taiwan says needs full review of pandemic handling as cases drop

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People receive a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) during a vaccination session for elderly people over 85 years old, at a sports stadium in New Taipei City, Taiwan June 15, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang

TAIPEI, June 21 (Reuters) - Taiwan needs a thorough review of how it handled the COVID-19 pandemic once it is over, President Tsai Ing-wen said on Monday as case numbers dropped below 100 for the first time in more than a month, admitting they had been caught off guard at first.

Since last month, Taiwan has tightened curbs on private gatherings and closed entertainment venues as it battled a rise in domestic cases, a shock to an island that had previously largely kept infections well under control.

Speaking to local television, Tsai said the authorities had handled the first wave of the pandemic well.

"The second wave was even more ferocious," she said. "At the start we were somewhat caught off guard."

Tsai's government was heavily criticised by the opposition for a lack of preparedness, including limited testing facilities, when cases suddenly surged last month, though authorities moved fast to address those issues.

"Once the epidemic is over, we must have a thorough review" to improve the epidemic prevention system, she said.

Taiwan is showing encouraging signs that the current wave is nearing its end.

Speaking earlier on Monday, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung announced just 75 new domestic infections.

It was the first time the daily figure had dipped below 100 since May 15, when Taiwan raised the alert level for its capital, Taipei, and the neighbouring city, after a sudden spike of 180 domestic cases.

"We hope this trend can continue," Chen told a daily news briefing. "This needs everyone to work hard together."

However, people should not relax their vigilance and must continue to wear masks and wash their hands, Chen added.

He would not be drawn on when restrictions, currently due to end on June 28, may be lifted, saying: "I won't speculate."

The government is trying to speed a vaccination programme hobbled by supply delays, with just about 6% of a population of 23.5 million having received at least one of the required two doses, though 2.5 million doses from the United States arrived on Sunday. read more

Taiwan's tally of infections in the pandemic stands at 14,080, including 569 deaths.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Kim Coghill

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