BBC deletes report accusing Taiwan quarantine of being 'prison-like'

Article alleged British woman 'incarcerated' under quarantine in Taiwan

Standard Hualien quarantine center room. (Hualien County Health Bureau photo)

Standard Hualien quarantine center room. (Hualien County Health Bureau photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A BBC article that alleged a British woman was being held in "prison-like conditions" has been deleted after the Taiwanese government rebutted the allegation and a massive backlash from Taiwanese and foreign netizens alike.

On Thursday (March 26) the BBC released a report in which a British woman identified as Jill Weaver claimed her daughter had been "incarcerated" and separated from her partner. Later that same day, Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) and Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) denied any mistreatment had occurred and refuted Weaver's account.

Weaver claimed her 28-year-old daughter, Nathalie Dawson, and her Australian partner, Rohan Pixley, had originally planned a stopover in Taiwan on their way to Australia. However, as the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic escalated, their flight to Australia was canceled, and a new rule was put in place requiring travelers who had been in Europe as far back as March 5 to undergo a 14-day quarantine in Taiwan.

Example of room in Hualien quarantine center. (MOFA photo)

Weaver said the couple had agreed to undergo their quarantine in the hotel they had originally booked for their stay. However, she claims they were suddenly moved by ambulance to an "unknown location."

Dawson's mother complained that "They are locked in and they can't get out," and she decried the fact that they are delivered only three meals a day. She further complained that the food is "of poor quality and meager portions."

She went on to allege that "The room is filthy. She has no hot water and nowhere to wash her clothes." Weaver said the couple understands the need to undergo quarantine but claimed the conditions they were being kept in are "just awful."

Rohan Pixley and Nathalie Dawson (Twitter, Jerome Taylor screenshot)

During a press conference later that day, Health Minister and CECC head Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) emphasized that the couple had not been mistreated. He added that if the couple required additional assistance, he would be willing to arrange consular support from the British Office in Taiwan.

Chen said that the hot water heater broke when the couple checked in on March 15. Chen added, however, that it was repaired at 2 a.m. in the morning.

Meanwhile, MOFA Spokesperson Joanne Ou (歐江安) said that accusations did not conform to the facts. Ou said MOFA "deeply regrets that some media outlet published such negative and false content that alludes to and criticizes Taiwan's national epidemic prevention image without verification."

Many Taiwanese netizens were outraged at what they perceived to be a biased report and made their anger known on the BBC East Midlands Facebook page. Many pointed out that the Taiwanese government was providing the couple with housing free of charge and that the actual conditions in the quarantine center, located in Hualien County, are far from "prison-like."

Foreign residents of Taiwan also criticized the BBC for its one-sided coverage of the incident and defended Taiwan's handling of the crisis. Twitter user Edward Lindon, for example, criticized the BBC for its "unsubstantiated, biased, ignorant article," and wrote that he was "very reassured by this govt's sensible and effective handling of the crisis."

Later that evening, the BBC added an update that included the statements by MOFA and CECC to provide a more balanced report. However, a few hours later, the article was taken down from the BBC website, and clicking on its link now yields a 404 error message. All posts posts of the article were removed from social media as well.

Page as it appears now. (BBC, screenshot)

Examples of meals ​provided to couple. (Hualien County Health Bureau photo)

Washing machines available to quarantined residents. (Hualien County Health Bureau photo)

Open-air balcony with view of mountains quarantine occupants can access. (Hualien County Health Bureau photo)