Fri, May 02, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Government set to charter planes for China-based sick

STAFF WRITER WITH AGENCIES

The government plans to charter planes to fly home businesspeople in China infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) if necessary.

The charter flights would be arranged upon requests from the patients, Mainland Affairs Council Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said yesterday.

Three Taiwanese businessmen -- two in Beijing and one in Dongguan City, Guangdong Province, -- were reported to have been infected with SARS.

Cabinet spokesman Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) said the council would work out details of the charter flights with the Ministry of Transportation and Communications if the special service was proven politically and technically feasible after negotiations with the Chinese authorities.

The government, which had previously hesitated over the move, apparently changed its mind after Hong Kong sent a specially fitted plane on Tuesday to fly home 33 tourists under SARS quarantine here.

Minister of Transportation and Communications Lin Ling-san (林陵三) said yesterday that he had asked the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) to discuss the matter with airline companies, even though he had not been notified by the Mainland Affairs Council about any charter-flight plan.

Lin said his ministry would coordinate with the Department of Health to help ensure the safety of fight crews on such charter flights.

When asked who would pay for the charter flights, Lin said he had not thought about the matter yet, even though the airline companies would definitely not be paying.

CAA officials said general passenger planes will need to be refitted before they can carry patients with contagious diseases.

But arranging charter flights is a time-consuming process and may not be the most effective way to help Taiwanese businesspeople in China, according to Andy Chang (張五岳), a professor at Tamkang University.

"The flights still need to be reviewed and approved by the civil aviation authorities on both sides," Chang said, and the process may be too slow to save SARS-infected patients.

It would be better for Tai-wanese in China to first seek medical treatment where they are, he said.

Charter flights should be the last option, to be adopted if the situation in China spins entirely out of control, Chang said.

Similar obstacles exist against sending teams of medical workers to China to treat Taiwanese there, Chang said.

"No country will lightly allow doctors from other countries to practise medicine within their territories," Chang said.

The most effective way to cooperate may be to exchange information on SARS and its prevention, Chang said.

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