A China Airlines (中華航空) charter flight to evacuate Taiwanese stranded in China on Tuesday was delayed by Chinese authorities, who unilaterally attempted to make last-minute changes to the passenger manifest, an anonymous source said yesterday.
Just before the flight was scheduled to depart Hubei Province at 5pm, Chinese authorities attempted to add 30 passengers not on the original manifest, saying that there was “enough room in the cabin,” the source said.
They also refused to let passengers don protective clothing, saying it was “unnecessary,” the source said.
Photo courtesy of the Central Epidemic Command Center
The two maneuvers caused the flight to be delayed until 9:46pm, as the Central Epidemic Command Center and other medical authorities in Taiwan refused to accept the moves, creating a four-hour stalemate, until the passengers were allowed to don protective clothing and board the aircraft, the source added.
A separate charter flight operated by China Eastern Airlines (中國東方航空) was also delayed and arrived in Taiwan at 4:08am yesterday.
Although the Chinese authorities had claimed that protective clothing was unnecessary, the China Eastern Airlines flight crew all wore protective gear, the source said, citing a Taiwanese passenger on the flight.
Despite the delays caused by the Chinese authorities not respecting Taiwan’s health and quarantine regulations, Xinhua news agency yesterday reported that the Taiwanese government was “obstructing Taiwanese from returning home,” the source said.
A Hubei official in charge of Taiwan-related issues also lambasted Taipei for not allowing the 30 additional passengers to board either flight, the source said.
The Hubei Provincial Government’s Taiwan Affairs Office said in a statement that the Taiwanese government had rejected its suggestion that 30 people on a waiting list be allowed to fill vacant seats.
Asked about the statement, Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said: “It is very important that we get the passenger list beforehand so that we can make arrangements for their isolation and quarantine, and to monitor their health, as well as settling them in quarantine centers after they return to Taiwan.”
“We did not feel safe transporting passengers who were suddenly put on the list, so we refused to let them board the airplane,” said Chen, who heads the Central Epidemic Command Center.
Meanwhile, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) said that politics should neither obstruct the return of Taiwanese nor “cause a hole” in epidemic prevention efforts.
“If governments squabble at a time like this, it is only common people who get hurt. Diseases knows no borders — I hope that both sides can put aside politics and communicate effectively,” he said.
“Health knows no borders. Taking good care of the nation’s citizens is the government’s most important task,” President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) later wrote on Facebook, adding that there were “no political considerations” involved in the officials’ rejection of additional passengers who were not on the charter flights’ original manifests.
Additional reporting by Lee I-chia and CNA
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