WHO officials questioned over Taiwan's exclusion from virus response

WHO provided technical support to Taiwan.

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WHO held an emergency meeting to prevent the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus. (AP Photo/Yanan Wang)

WHO held an emergency meeting to prevent the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus. (AP Photo/Yanan Wang)

Officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) were questioned Thursday about Taiwan's exclusion from the organization and its global disease prevention efforts amid escalating fears over the spread of a new coronavirus that originated in China.

At an international news conference after a two-day WHO emergency meeting in Geneva to discuss the deadly new coronavirus, a reporter asked whether the WHO would consider accepting Taiwan as a member and would exchange information about the virus, as diseases know no borders.

In response, Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO Health Emergencies Program, said only that his organization works "very closely with technical partners in China, Taiwan," referring to Taiwan.

He said that during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in Taiwan in 2003, the WHO provided technical support to Taiwan.

"Nobody would deny necessary public health assistance in that situation," Ryan said.

He also said he believes the authorities in Taiwan are working very closely with those in China.

"I believe there have been joint missions and joint approaches to the response, so I would characterize, from our perspective, that there is technical cooperation going on between provinces in China and between WHO and any of those entities that seek our assistance," Ryan said.

The reporter posed the questions in the wake of Taiwan's exclusion from the two-day WHO meeting, which was attend by all the other countries that had reported cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) up to that point.

Taiwan, which confirmed it first case Tuesday, was not invited to attend, a decision that drew wide criticism of the WHO.

On Wednesday, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) urged the WHO not to exclude Taiwan from the global efforts to contain the virus, and she called on China to fulfill its responsibility as a member of the global society by providing adequate information to Taiwan about the spread of the deadly respiratory disease.

Since the new infectious disease emerged in Wuhan in December last year, China has reported 830 cases and 26 deaths. A few cases have also been reported recently in other countries, including Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and the United States.

At its Geneva meeting this week, however, the WHO decided not to declare the virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), saying that although it was an emergency in China, that was not the case in the rest of the world.

On Thursday, Taiwan tightened its border control, mandating a health declaration by all visitors from China and banning the entry of residents of Wuhan, the epicenter of the deadly new coronavirus.