Thu, May 08, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Experts, officials leap to defense of government

ON THE OFFENSIVE A CNN report critical of the way the government has handled the SARS outbreak at Hoping Hospital drew a vehement backlash yesterday


Local experts and authorities yesterday defended the country's handling of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak after a report broadcast on US-based news channel CNN suggested the government had been ignoring advice.

CNN reporter Mike Chinoy reported live from in front of Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital two days ago. He said that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (USCDC) had advised the government to concentrate SARS patients in one area, but that the local authorities had moved patients to other hospitals, allowing the SARS virus to spread further.

Cabinet Spokesman Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) said the government was disappointed that CNN had not confirmed its information with the country's medical authorities before broadcasting the report.

Lin defended the government's decisions, including sealing off the hospital, saying they had been supported by local medical experts and those from the US Centers for Disease Control.

"As for the follow-up efforts to move patients to different hospitals, it turned out that such a move prevented further widespread SARS infections within a single medical facility. All the transportation procedures for the SARS patients were strictly monitored to ensure complete safety," Lin said.

Yeh Chin-chuan (葉金川), a former director of Taipei City's Bureau of Health who has been advising the city government, said that it was impractical to hold all the SARS patients in one place.

"The USCDC experts who came to help suggested that when we relocated the SARS patients, we should transfer them to the same place," Yeh said.

"The situation in Taiwan, however, was that we did not have a hospital capable of taking in all the SARS patients. We had no other choice but to dispatch the patients to different hospitals," he said.

"We simply did not have the money. To ask us why we didn't quarantine the patients in the same place is like asking beggars why they don't dine out in fancy restaurants.

"The government is only now building special SARS hospitals," he said.

Department of Health Deputy Director-General Lee Lung-teng (李龍騰) said, "I have not heard of such advice from the USCDC."

"If we did confine the patients in the same place, there would certainly have been many more deaths," Lee said.

Taipei City Bureau of Health Director Chiu Shu-ti (邱淑女是) said, "When we first shut down Hoping Hospital, it was indeed concentrated confinement. Professionally we did not think it a good solution though."

"Later, to relieve the excessive strain within the hospital, we decided to move the SARS patients to other hospitals.

"It was not that we transferred the patients carelessly. Instead, during the process the medical personnel were always protected [from catching the disease], and the patients have always been placed in isolated rooms," she said.

The city's Bureau of Information will help investigate the source of the report's information,

Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇), the bureau's head, said yesterday.

"The Taipei City Government will offer an explanation to the central government for the gap between the CNN report and the real situation, so the central government can clarify the matter with CNN," Wu said.

Taiwanese media, meanwhile, have been having trouble catching up with USCDC and WHO experts monitoring the SARS situation here.

The itineraries of the two WHO specialists are being treated as top secret, and the Department of Health has said little about their activities.

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