China asks to return 1,000 Taiwanese stranded in Wuhan in 3 days

Taiwan responds that China's plans are 'hasty' and could greatly increase risk of virus spreading further

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China's TAO spokesman Ma Xiaoguang

China's TAO spokesman Ma Xiaoguang (CNA photo)

[Last update: 17:25]

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — After the first evacuation flight was conducted earlier this week, China said on Thursday (Feb. 6) the number of Taiwanese stranded in the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) stricken province of Hubei remained close to 1,000 and it asked to send them back to Taiwan via five flights within three days.

The first batch of Taiwanese and their Chinese spouses flew to Taiwan from Wuhan — where the virus outbreak started in December — on late Monday evening (Feb. 3). However, the 247 passengers that arrived did not match the passenger list forwarded to the Taiwanese authorities, which expected the arrival of 244 Taiwanese.

Instead, dozens of Chinese spouses boarded the flight with their husbands or children, while Taiwanese who had been on brief business trips to China without permanent accommodation, or who were ill and faced a shortage of medication, were left out. Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), the top government agency handling cross-strait affairs, on Wednesday (Feb. 5) acknowledged that it had been provided with the finalized boarding list shortly before take-off.

MAC Minister Chen Ming-tong (陳明通) criticized Beijing for not putting the young and elderly and those with medical emergencies on the first flight to Taiwan. Furthermore, he said protective measures were lacking, leaving three people with coronavirus symptoms, one of whom was later confirmed to have contracted the disease, in the same plane with hundreds of passengers.

Spokesperson for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) Ma Xiaoguang (馬曉光) denied the accusations, according to Xinhua News Agency. He criticized the Taiwanese authorities for blocking subsequent flights that would return the rest of the stranded Taiwanese.

The Chinese official claimed all passengers on the first flight had their temperatures taken three times before boarding and hence “247 Taiwanese compatriots successfully returned to Taiwan.” He added there should not be a priority list, as requested by Taiwan, as all of the stranded Taiwanese should be sent back to the island “as soon as possible.”

According to Ma, a list carrying the names of 979 Taiwanese wishing to return home was handed over to the Taiwanese authorities via civil aviation agencies on Thursday morning. Ma said China Eastern Airlines had originally planed to operate two flights on Thursday, two on Friday, and one on Saturday.

The five flights within three days would have returned all Taiwanese, but “Taiwan deliberately delayed [the plans] for some reason,” said Ma. He failed to explain why the Taiwanese authorities delayed the flights, nor did he clarify why the number of Taiwanese on the list increased by nearly double compared to the figure negotiated previously.

“Epidemic prevention is by no means a game,” said MAC via a statement on Friday (Feb. 7). China’s plans to send a large number of people to Taiwan within a few days are “hasty and imprudent,” and could greatly increase the risk of a virus outbreak in Taiwan, said the agency.

Future evacuations of Taiwanese from Hubei Province would not be permitted until China prioritizes the young and elderly and at-risk, and offers comprehensive protection for the passengers, stressed the MAC.

“We do not have political considerations,” said President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on Friday. The priorities of the government are dealing with the disease and protecting the lives of people, she added.

Tsai called for bilateral cooperation and mutual communication based on goodwill on both sides. “We definitely have the ability to take good care of our people.”