Quarantine and disease prevention efforts will be strengthened as Taiwan prepares to open its doors wider to Chinese tourists, Department of Health (DOH) Minister Lin Fang-yue said Wednesday.
Fielding questions at the Legislative Yuan on Taiwan's imminent opening to Chinese tourists, probably in July, Lin noted that Taiwan cannot demand that Chinese visitors have health checks prior to boarding a Taiwan-bound airplane, based on the principles of equality and international exchange etiquette.
"We cannot tell the Chinese that they are not welcome until they have had a health check prior to their arrival," Lin said, pointing out that all Taiwan can do to dispel concerns that "Chinese tourists might bring in diseases," is to strengthen health awareness and knowledge of epidemic diseases such as tuberculosis and enterovirus among "frontline personnel."
"We can make efforts to give local tour guides and tourist hotels hosting Chinese tourists better knowledge about epidemic diseases so that they can contribute to helping control diseases that might be brought in by the Chinese holidaymakers," Lin continued.
He made the remarks before the Legislative Yuan Public Health, Environment and Labor Affairs Committee, where legislators of all political persuasions voiced concern that Taiwan might fall victim to epidemic diseases once Chinese citizens start pouring into Taiwan.
Ruling Kuomintang Legislator Lin Hung-chih asked the health minister how the DOH plans to keep epidemic diseases at bay in the face of the influx of Chinese tourists.
He claimed that Taiwan has been unable to efficiently curb the spread of tuberculosis, while China reportedly has over 6 million TB patients.
Opposition Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tien Chiu-chin also asked Lin whether the DOH is ready to deal with possible diseases brought in from China by tourists.
Tien claimed that health and medicare standards are generally more primitive in China and that the situations regarding some contagious diseases such as enterovirus and H5N1 -- a deadly bird flu that can be transmitted person to person -- are "more serious than we know."
Responding to the two legislators' inquiries, Lin said that in addition to strengthening training of local tour guides and hotel personnel to enhance their alert levels, Taiwan and China must reach agreement on disease prevention and medical exchanges.