Taiwan evacuates 361 on 2 flights from Wuhan, those with fevers rejected

361 Taiwanese nationals evacuated on charter flights run by China Airlines, China Eastern Airlines

CAL aircraft at TPE airport. 

CAL aircraft at TPE airport.  (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan evacuated a total of 361 Taiwanese nationals on two charter flights, which landed in Taoyuan on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning (March 10 and 11), but those who registered a high temperature at the last minute had to be turned back.

While the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak was still in its early stages in Communist China, a charter flight brought Taiwanese businesspeople and their Chinese spouses back to Taiwan on Feb. 3. However, due to factors such as last-minute additions, quarantine issues, the presence of confirmed cases on board, and a boarding list that omitted the most vulnerable Taiwanese, subsequent charter flights were scrapped.

After over a month of tense cross-strait negotiations, including a dispute over which country's airlines would carry out the evacuations, the two sides came to a compromise in which there would be two flights, with one flight by Taiwan's China Airlines (CAL) and another by China Eastern Airlines (CEA).

The first charter flight, operated by CAL and carrying 169 passengers, arrived at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (TPE) at 11:37 p.m. on Tuesday night, reported CNA. The second flight, operated by CEA with 192 onboard, arrived at TPE at 4:08 a.m. Wednesday morning.

The CAL flight was originally scheduled to arrive at 7:45 p.m., but as the plane was towed onto the taxiway at the Wuhan Tianhe International Airport, two passengers were found to have fevers, forcing the plane to be taken back to the gate. Among the passengers with a fever was a woman, who disembarked from the plane along with her husband and son, according to the report.

CAL charter jet arrives in hangar. (CNA photo)

The incident caused the plane's departure to be delayed by two hours. Airline officials said that Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) was notified of the situation.

When the jets arrived at the airport, they were taken to a special hangar, far away from the gates used by general passengers. As each passenger exited the plane, their temperatures were taken again by personnel in hazmat suits.

The passengers were then asked to fill out a health declaration card and provide relevant information such as their recent travel and residence history. Those who presented symptoms of the disease were sent to hospital isolation wards for treatment and monitoring.

Those who had no symptoms were sent to specially designated housing to undergo a 14-day quarantine. In addition, in order to protect the privacy of all passengers, the hangar door was closed immediately after the aircraft had come to a stop.

Due to the large number of passengers and to maintain the strict quarantine process, the passengers were divided into multiple groups and transported away from the airport via tour buses to their respective quarantine locations. The returnees were noticeably fatigued after undergoing many modes of transportation, delays, and multiple layers of quarantine inspections, according to the report.