Taiwan laments WHO's inaction on its alert on coronavirus

03/25/2020 02:39 PM
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Taipei, March 25 (CAN) Taiwan's government has confirmed a media report saying the World Health Organization (WHO) failed to pass on its warning at the end of December about possible human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus to other countries.

At a press conference Tuesday, Bob Chen (陳龍錦), head of the Department of International Organizations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), said Taiwan learned about the emergence of atypical pneumonia cases in Wuhan before the end of 2019.

Taiwan's Centers for Disease Control (CDC) communicated this information to the WHO's International Health Regulations (IHR) framework and to the Chinese side on Dec. 31, requesting them to verify, Chen said.

The WHO said it would relay the information to experts, but the information was not shared in WHO's internal website for other countries, according to Chen.

The CDC still has the records of those email communications, Chen said.

Chou Jih-haw (周志浩), director-general of the CDC, also confirmed sending an email to China and the WHO on Dec. 31 saying that Taiwan was aware of a respiratory illness that had appeared in Wuhan and was worried about the possibility of human-to-human transmission.

But according to Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), China did not clarify the alleged human-to-human transmission, and the WHO did nothing more than simply acknowledge receipt of Taiwan's email.

The officials were responding to a Financial Times story on March 20 revealing the alleged inaction of the WHO in light of Taiwan's concerns, quoting several Taiwanese officials, including Vice President Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁).

"While the IHR's internal website provides a platform for all countries to share information on the epidemic and their response, none of the information shared by our country's CDC is being put up there," the report quoted the vice president as saying.

Though the WHO did not publicize Taiwan's warnings, Taiwan still took precautions itself based on the information it had, including screening airline passengers, setting up an emergency response center and dispatching a team to Wuhan to learn more about the situation.

The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) on Tuesday shared Twitter posts of Morgan Ortagus, a U.S. State department spokeswoman, on its Facebook page to confirm that Taiwan did alert the WHO to the coronavirus threat.

"Dec. 31 -- that's the same day Taiwan first tried to warn WHO of human-human transmission," Ortagus tweeted. "Chinese authorities meanwhile silenced doctors and refused to admit human-human transmission until Jan. 20, with catastrophic consequences."

The new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has continued to worsen since the first patients were detected in Wuhan in December. To date, at least 375,498 have been confirmed as infected across 195 countries and regions, with 16,362 deaths, according to the WHO.

(By Chen Yun-yu and Emerson Lim)

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