Virus Outbreak: Tsai weighs in on Wuhan flights

DEALING WITH CHINA::A surgeon launched a petition to have Taipei determine passenger lists for charter flights, with those in urgent need of care to get priority

By Wu Liang-yi  /  Staff reporter

Sat, Feb 08, 2020 - Page 1

Taiwan is to prioritize vulnerable people and adhere to the highest level of quarantine measures when evacuating Taiwanese from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said yesterday.

Tsai was responding to questions about a charter flight that arrived from Wuhan on Monday, on which three of the 247 passengers had not been on a priority list the government provided to Chinese authorities.

The issue escalated when one of the three passengers tested positive for the coronavirus, becoming the nation’s 11th case.

The government had communicated with Chinese authorities on the guidelines for the flight and its priorities, but they unilaterally changed the passenger list after agreeing to Taipei’s terms, Tsai said on a visit to the Centers for Disease Control in Taipei.

That resulted in some vulnerable Taiwanese being excluded from the flight and complicated the nation’s disease prevention efforts, she said.

The flights must be arranged in such a way as to give precedence to disadvantaged people and adhere to disease prevention policies, she added.

A spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office on Thursday said that a list of 979 Taiwanese waiting to be evacuated from Wuhan had been sent to Taipei via civil aviation channels earlier in the day.

Tsai yesterday said that the two sides were still communicating over the issue and that the government would adhere to its aforementioned guidelines in its communications with Beijing.

Separately yesterday, surgeon Wu Hsin-tai (吳欣岱) launched an online petition demanding that the government should solely decide passenger lists of charter flights from Wuhan and put Taiwanese in urgent need of medical attention at the top.

The flights should also include Taiwanese disease prevention officials to ensure proper precautions have been taken and they should only be conducted when there are ample local health resources, the petition says.

The petition claims that Taiwan has 1,100 beds available in quarantine facilities.

The petition had garnered more than 50,000 signatures within six hours of its launch yesterday.

Meanwhile, all passenger flights between Taiwan and China would be halted from Monday through April 29, with the exception of those to five destinations in China, the Central Epidemic Command Center announced yesterday.

From Monday, all flights across the Taiwan Strait, excluding those between Taiwan and Beijing, Pudong and Hongqiao airports in Shanghai, Xiamen in China’s Fujian Province and Chengdu in Sichuan Province, would be suspended as part of government efforts to prevent the spread of 2019-nCoV, the center said.

Additional reporting by Chien Hui-ju and CNA