361 evacuees from China's Hubei province placed in quarantine

03/11/2020 02:36 PM

Taipei, March 11 (CNA) A total of 361 Taiwanese nationals who returned to Taiwan Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning from China's Hubei province, after being stranded due to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease COVID-19, have been placed in quarantine, according to the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC).

At a news conference held Wednesday morning, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who is also head of the CECC, said testing of samples from the 361 Taiwanese is expected to be completed in 48 hours to determine whether they have the virus.

The evacuees have been placed in single rooms and those who test positive for the virus will be sent to hospital, while those who test negative will remain in quarantine for 14 days, according to the CECC.

During the quarantine, the CECC said, the evacuees will have their temperature taken twice a day and if anyone develops a fever or respiratory symptoms they will be sent to a hospital for treatment.

Chen said the evacuees returned on two charter flights operated by Taiwan's China Airlines and Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines, which carried 169 and 192 passengers, respectively. It was the second evacuation since 247 Taiwanese returned on Feb. 3.

During the second round of evacuations, Chen said Taiwan dispatched 13 medical staffers -- four doctors and nine nurses -- to take care of the evacuees.

After the CAL and China Eastern Airlines touched down at Taoyuan International Airport, the passengers received a check-up in a provisional facility at the airport before being sent to quarantine venues in 10 ambulances and 22 tour buses.

At the same news conference, Shih Chung-liang (石崇良), director- general of the Department of Medical Affairs under the Ministry of Health and Welfare, said 112 of the 169 CAL evacuees were sent to one quarantine venue, and the remaining 57 to another location, while the 192 evacuees on the China Eastern Airlines flight went to a third quarantine facility.

Among the 361 evacuees, those under the age of 18 accounted for about 20 percent, while the oldest was 91.

The CAL charter flight had been scheduled to arrive in Taiwan at around 8 p.m. Tuesday and the China Eastern Airline flight soon after midnight.

However, the CAL flight returned to Taiwan at 11:37 p.m. Tuesday due to a delayed take-off after two passengers were found to have a fever and together with a family member were ordered off the plane. A further 27 passengers were prevented from boarding the flights.

As a result, the China Eastern Airline flight was also delayed and did not arrive in Taiwan until 4:08 a.m. Wednesday.

Chen said the delay was caused by a difference in approach to the prevention of the virus.

The Chinese health authorities thought that as all the passengers tested negative for COVID-19 they could board the plane, but Taiwanese health officials decided to be more cautious.

"The difference in understanding led China to think Taiwan did not trust their medical professionals, but I have to say we just did what we had to do based on our knowledge of the virus," Chen said.

For example, he said, evacuees from the coronavirus-hit cruise ship Diamond Princess in Japan were released after testing negative twice for the virus.

However, after returning to Taiwan, they underwent more tests and were not released until they had each received a total of five tests, Chen said.

As many people who initially tested negative for the virus were later found to have contracted the disease, it is better to be extra cautious than to regret later on, Chen said.

Following the first charter flight on Feb. 3, the authorities in Taiwan and China blamed each other for hindering efforts to evacuate the remaining Taiwanese.

All but one of the 247 Taiwanese who returned from Wuhan were released from quarantine Feb. 18 after they were cleared of possible infection.

The one evacuee who tested positive for COVID-19 was discharged from hospital Feb. 27.

Taiwan had halted plans to fly back the rest of the stranded Taiwanese after one passenger who was not on the boarding manifest was diagnosed with the disease the day after his return.

(By Chang Ming-hsuan, Yu Hsiao-han, Bien Ching-feng and Frances Huang)

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