Sun, May 11, 2003 - Page 1 News List

AIT permits staff to pack their bags

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Washington authorized family members and non-emergency personnel from the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) on Friday to leave Taiwan on a voluntary basis in light of the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

Other embassies and representative offices in Taipei have adopted mixed policies in response to the spread of the disease.

"The move to authorize voluntary departures is a prudent measure that provides AIT and family members with the opportunity to relocate temporarily outside of Taiwan until the situation improves," the AIT said in a press release.

Due to uncertainties over the outbreak and concerns about the AIT's ability to evacuate its employees and their families, the US Department of State decided to take steps to protect these people, the statement said.

The State Department on Friday authorized the departure of family members and non-emergency personnel from the AIT offices in Taipei and Kaohsiung on a voluntary basis "due to health concerns," the release said.

The AIT's Taipei office issued a thermometer to each of its staffers earlier this week to help them monitor their body temperature on a regular basis, a source at the AIT said.

Other embassies and trade representative offices in Taipei have adopted mixed policies in response to the SARS outbreak.

According to Maggie Yeh (葉美慧), officer at the press and public affairs section of the British Trade and Cultural Office (BTCO), office policy is to consider any application for UK staff and their dependents to leave.

"But no one has applied to do so at this time," Yeh said in a telephone interview. "We are not evacuating our staff."

The Canadian Trade Office in Taipei has been discussing the voluntary departure of the dependents of its personnel, a source said.

Ruth Kahanoff, representative of the Israel Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei, said her office has not yet developed such a contingency plan.

"But we will see how things develop. If suitable, we'll arrange for our family members to leave Taiwan to have their summer vacations earlier," Kahanoff said.

"Obviously we are concerned like the rest of the people in Taiwan. But we are confident that things will get under control as soon as possible," the top Israeli representative added.

With regards to the Singapore Trade Office in Taipei, an insider said, "We are monitoring the situation closely. There's no plan to send people back on a voluntary basis."

Meanwhile, the AIT said in its press release that it has worked closely with US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) officers and Taiwan's health authorities to better understand the risk to US citizens in Taiwan.

The CDC has around seven specialists in Taiwan working with local authorities to help contain the spread of the deadly flu-like disease, the AIT said.

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