Coronavirus News Asia

WHO ‘refused to act’ on Taiwan’s virus alert


The Taiwanese government has said it sounded the alarm at the end of last year about possible human-to-human transmission of a new coronavirus when it first started to strike people down in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. Yet its warning went unheeded by the World Health Organization (WHO), of which the island is not a member due to disputes over its statehood.

The self-governing island’s officials have confirmed a previous report by the Financial Times claiming the WHO failed to pass on Taiwan’s warning about the contagious pathogen Covid-19 at the end of December. The warning was issued after cadres in Wuhan vehemently repudiated claims that a mysterious form of pneumonia was spreading among the city’s residents. They decreed that New Year celebrations and annual municipal conferences would proceed as scheduled.

Quoting several Taiwanese officials, including Vice-President Chen Chien-jen, an epidemiologist-turned-politician, the British broadsheet alleged that despite Taiwan’s concerns, the WHO failed to act.

Taiwan’s health and foreign affairs officials said at a press conference earlier this week that the island had learned about an emerging atypical respiratory disease in Wuhan from Taiwanese expats there in December. Taiwan’s Center for Disease Control then tried to seek clarification and more information from its Chinese counterpart as well as the WHO’s International Health Regulations framework on December 31. Taiwan’s representative office in Geneva, where the WHO is headquartered, also tried to contact the secretariat of the United Nations agency on health.

The only response that Taiwan received from the WHO, according to the Central News Agency, was an email saying that the inquiry would be relayed to the organization’s experts but would not be posted on the organization’s internal website for the benefit of member countries.

A map illustrates the distribution of Taiwan’s confirmed cases. The island has a total of 267 cases as of Friday, fewer than the soaring number of patients in other Asian countries. Photo: CNA

Taiwan’s Center for Disease Control (CDC) said it had email correspondence with the WHO to substantiate its claim about the latter’s inaction. China’s officials did not reply to Taiwan’s request for more information.

CDC Director-General Chou Jih-haw added that the center sent separate emails to China and the WHO on December 31 expressing Taiwan’s concerns about the virus and how it is transmitted.

“While the WHO’s IHR internal website provides a platform for all countries to share information on epidemics and their response, none of the information shared by our country’s CDC was put up there,” the Financial Times quoted Taiwan’s vice-president as saying.


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