Communist China’s relentless effort to diplomatically isolate Taiwan is bearing particularly bitter fruit this week as Taiwan prepares to battle China’s rapidly spreading coronavirus epidemic with limited assistance from the international community, since China has resolutely blocked Taiwanese membership in bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO).
Taiwanese Premier Su Tseng-chang presided over a closed-door meeting on coronavirus preparedness on Thursday, telling numerous central and local agencies to prepare for a “medium to long-term battle” by stockpiling necessary supplies, preparing treatment centers, devising procedures to contain the disease, and taking steps to minimize the risk of contagion.
Among the most vital supplies are face masks, which help prevent the spread of disease in crowded areas. Hong Kong, which is watched closely by Taiwan in all matters pertaining to relations with China, is grievously short on masks (according to epidemiologists, so is the United States). The Taiwanese government has placed emergency orders with manufacturers to secure another four million face masks.
Su made it clear that Taiwanese citizens who conceal their medical history, break quarantine, or provide inaccurate information about travel that might have exposed them to the virus will be punished. Other Taiwanese officials said criminal charges will be brought against people who spread disinformation about the virus.
Officials in Taipei expressed confidence that the risk of a coronavirus epidemic could be minimized. Travel to and from the outbreak region in China has already been restricted. Eight infected people are known to have entered Taiwan, and 27 of the people they came in contact with have displayed symptoms. One indigenous case of transmission – i.e. someone who caught the virus after being exposed while in Taiwan – has been confirmed.
About a hundred cases of severe pneumonia are being carefully monitored to ensure they are not Wuhan coronavirus infections. Some of the people judged to be at risk of infection have been placed under a sort of loose house arrest, complete with electronic monitoring devices and strict warnings not to travel too far from home.
Taiwanese doctors are concerned that they cannot obtain direct information about the spread of the Wuhan virus from the WHO since China locked them out of membership. Taiwan enjoyed observer status at WHO until 2016, when China began aggressively moving to isolate the island following the election of current President Tsai Ing-wen.
On Thursday, the Caribbean nation of St. Lucia, one of Taiwan’s remaining allies, called on WHO to allow full Taiwanese participation in the coronavirus effort.
“Short-term or myopic considerations must not be permitted to impede international information exchange, consultation and collective action,” said St. Lucia’s embassy in Taiwan.
Japan and Canada have also urged the WHO to give Taiwan some formal status in the organization to help combat the Wuhan virus epidemic.
“It will be difficult to maintain health and prevent further infections in this region if [Taiwan] is excluded for political reasons,” Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo warned on Thursday.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau bizarrely dodged repeated questions from the opposition on Tuesday about supporting Taiwanese membership in WHO, accusing his opponents of “playing politics” merely by asking. Pressured by the opposition again on Wednesday, Trudeau said he supported restoring Taiwan’s observer status with the World Health Organization.
WHO Executive Director Michael Ryan said on Wednesday that “Taiwanese experts are involved in all of our consultations” and are “fully engaged and fully aware of all the developments.”