TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Negotiations for a second flight to evacuate stranded Taiwanese from Wuhan, China, epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, have been unfruitful, which Taiwan’s health minister blames on China's obstruction, CNA reported on Saturday (Feb. 15).
A group of relatives of the Taiwanese still stranded in China’s Hubei Province protested in front of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) on Friday, blaming the government for not being able to bring their loved ones home and hoping that the MAC would announce an evacuation plan before Monday, according to CNA.
Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said on Friday that the plan to evacuate remaining Taiwanese from Hubei via a second charter flight followed by quarantine had been in place for some time. However, the plan was stalled by the Chinese government after a variety of excuses, including a demand to follow the model of the first evacuation flight by using China Eastern Airlines instead of Taiwan's China Airlines as well as a demand to transport 890 Taiwanese over two days, the report said.
CNA quoted sources familiar with the situation as saying that right after the first evacuation flight on Feb. 3, Chinese state media Xinhua News Agency reported on a plan lacking Taiwan's consultation in which China Eastern would carry out a total of four flights from Feb. 4th to Feb. 5th, flying out 890 Taiwanese.
The source cited by CNA went on to say that Taiwan’s authorities immediately told China that the list of the 247 evacuees on the first flight did not comply with Taiwan’s recommendation to prioritize evacuations based on health needs. Concerns were also expressed that a patient confirmed to have already contracted the coronavirus found their way onto the flight.
According to the report, Taiwan told China that the current plan could not go ahead, citing a need for more stringent screening procedures before boarding and an inability to handle 890 evacuees in two days. After several days of negotiations, China reportedly notified Taiwan that the number of flights would increase from four to five and that the number of evacuees would also increase from 890 to 979.
The source said that Taiwan would face great risk of virus spread if the China Eastern model were to be followed. As a result, evacuation talks have been stalled.