Sun, May 18, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Diseased doctor's tour causes diplomatic trouble

By Debby Wu and Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Minister of Foreign Affairs apologized to the Japanese government last night over a Taiwanese doctor who went to Japan, despite having SARS symptoms.

"The minister Eugene Chien, (簡又新) has asked his representative in Tokyo to express our deep regrets over this matter," ministry spokesman Richard Shih (石瑞琦) said last night.

Shih said the ministry would be in close contact with Tokyo's de facto embassy in Taiwan as well as the Department of Health in an attempt to minimize the damage triggered by the physician's visit to Japan.

Yesterday, the former director-general of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) Chen Tzay-jinn (陳再晉) expressed anger at the doctor who works at Mackay Memorial Hospital after he traveled to Japan and returned with SARS symptoms.

"A person in the medical profession should not behave this way," Chen said.

"I have already issued a citation to the Taipei City Government's Bureau of Health yesterday, asking them to follow up on this case and see whether the doctor should be punished."

Chen, who stepped down from his CDC position yesterday, was one of the key officials handling the case.

Director-General of the Department of Health Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) yesterday also told reporters that if the doctor had intentionally hidden his symptoms, he could be heavily punished.

The doctor tested positive for the coronavirus yesterday. He was traveling in Japan from May 8 to Tuesday. The hospital reported that the doctor said he had a fever on May 9, but thought it was a cold.

After he returned on Tuesday and found himself still unfit, he went back to the hospital on Wednesday and was listed as a probable case.

He flew back on Japan Asia Airways EG 217, and some passengers on the same flight have already been ordered to go through home quarantine.

The hospital pointed out that the doctor did not have any direct contact with SARS patients nor did he show any SARS symptoms before he left for Japan.

However, when he was on his late shift on May 4, there was a SARS patient in his duty area. But the hospital said that the doctor had no reason to be in contact with the patient. The hospital said it was because the doctor did not have any contact history with any SARS patients that he did not suspect himself of having SARS when the fever started.

"Otherwise he would definitely have sought help from a local Japanese hospital immediately," the hospital said. "He would not have risked his life and others' if he had known it were SARS."

Chen was not satisfied with the hospital's explanation.

"When you do wrong, you should say so. Do not try to escape responsibility," he said.

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