Hundreds of Taiwanese remain trapped in Wuhan, China, since the city was locked down in late January in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
After a lot of hard work, 247 of them on Feb. 3 returned to Taiwan on a charter flight and were released on Tuesday after a 14-day quarantine, with the exception of one, who tested positive for the virus on arrival.
Making plans and preparing quarantine facilities large enough to accommodate hundreds of people is no easy task, but the government quickly set up quarantine centers in northern, central and southern Taiwan, and notified local government leaders.
Bringing Taiwanese home should have been a joyous event, but it turned into a political one due to a certain loose-lipped mayor, who revealed the location of a quarantine station, causing panic and a backlash from residents and university students in the area.
Taiwan is an island nation, and because of the remote mountain areas in the Central Mountain Range, almost everyone lives on the crowded coastal plains, leaving hardly any area uninhabited.
Setting up quarantine facilities for infectious diseases requires a lot of space and proper disease prevention equipment. The Australian government, for instance, placed its evacuees in a quarantine station on Christmas Island, where detention facilities for refugees and asylum-seekers are located. The decision was criticized for being racially discriminatory due to the island’s notorious history and many evacuees being Chinese-Australians.
The US and Germany, on the other hand, kept their evacuees in quarantine at military bases. No matter how far away a military base is located from local communities, there will always be a community nearby, and not even Christmas Island was deserted.
There are several rational and compassionate reasons why residents and students living near the quarantine stations should overcome their fear of the coronavirus, accept the temporary quarantine period and get through this difficult time together with the evacuees.
First, according to the government’s operating procedures, people brought back from Wuhan were screened for the disease before boarding, and no confirmed or suspected case was allowed on the flight. People at the quarantine stations are not sick and there is no need to jump to conclusions.
Second, since the longest virus incubation period is 14 days, the government set that as the quarantine period. TV footage also shows disease prevention personnel wearing full protective gear carefully examining and recording every passenger’s physical condition upon the flight’s arrival.
The government has taken all the precautions in its power, and the quarantine facilities, which have gradually gained media exposure, have been carefully and stringently arranged, with one room for each person, and going out or receiving visits is strictly prohibited. The public should rest assured.
Third, only a few hundred people have returned from Wuhan, and there will be a 14-day period between future repatriation flights. Moreover, the government has wisely located the quarantine stations across the nation, in northern, central and southern Taiwan. There is no need to panic.
Finally, during this period, disease prevention personnel have been working around the clock without complaint to protect the public from the virus. In addition to expressing gratitude, we should try our best to help healthcare professionals by doing whatever we can. We all need to work together and help bring the nation through this difficult time.
Choo Kong-bung is an adjunct investigator at Taipei Veterans General Hospital’s Department of Medical Research.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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