The opposition yesterday urged the government to strengthen its efforts on epidemic prevention and to treat avian influenza as a matter of national security after the first human infection of H7N9 in Taiwan was confirmed on Wednesday.
The government has been slow in its preparation for the expected H7N9 case, despite Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers’ warnings, the DPP caucus told a press conference, where it issued a list of six demands.
The caucus demanded that the government enforce epidemic prevention measures and promote awareness of avian flu, disclose the latest situation in medical facilities transparently, elevate the command chain of epidemic prevention to the highest level, issue travel warning for China and not to cover up cases of infection.
The administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was advised to establish an interagency platform, including local government officials, to tackle the potential avian flu outbreak as the 53-year-old Taiwanese patient, who had worked in China’s Jiangsu Province, was known to have been in contact with at least 139 people since his return to Taiwan on April 9, DPP Legislator Pan Men-an (潘孟安) said.
The caucus urged the government to immediately raise the travel alert level for affected areas in China to at least orange, the second-highest on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ four-scale system, so that tourists who planned to visit China could cancel their trip and receive a full reimbursement.
The Central Epidemic Command Center has announced a second-level warning, based on the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s three-level warning system, for seven Chinese provinces and cities — Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu Province, Zhejiang Province, Henan Province, Anhui Province and Shandong Province.
The Tourism Bureau said the US’ second-level warning was seen as a yellow warning under the ministry’s system, which means tourists would receive partial reimbursement if they cancel trips to the affected areas.
While the government has ordered a moratorium on the slaughter of live animals at traditional markets beginning on May 17 to prevent the spread of avian flu, DPP lawmakers said they suspected that slaughterhouses would carry out the practice privately, with DPP Legislator Hsu Chih-chieh (許智傑) saying that the moratorium could affect meat vendors’ livelihoods.
DPP Legislator Yeh Yi-jin (葉宜津) warned about preparations for monitoring the many Taiwanese businesspeople expected to return to Taiwan during China’s seven-day May Day holiday starting on Wednesday next week.
DPP Legislator Huang Wei-cher (黃偉哲) said the public still knows very little about the H7N9 virus, which is different from the H5N1 virus because it is infectious before an infected person develops a fever.
“Comprehensive measures on epidemic prevention and an assessment of the potential impacts on animal breeding businesses and tourism is needed,” Huang said.
DPP spokesperson Lin Chun-hsien told a press conference that the party is demanding “full transparency” on the latest situation across the Taiwan Strait, since Taiwan and China had signed an agreement on medical cooperation.
The Taiwan Solidarity Union had similar demands for the government, with caucus whip Lin Shih-chia (林世嘉) saying that the government should enhance border controls, especially on people returning from China.