Family members of Taiwanese nationals stuck in China called on their government to bring their relatives back to the democratic island on Friday, as Taipei accused Beijing of dragging its feet on a second evacuation flight from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, at the heart of the COVID-19 epidemic.
After much wrangling between Taiwan and China over the evacuation of Taiwanese in Hubei province, a charter flight brought the first group of evacuees home to Taiwan on Feb. 3. Since then, efforts to organize a second flight have proved heavy going.
Family members of people still stuck in Wuhan gathered at the island's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), the executive department in charge of handling relations with China, to complain about the ongoing delay.
"Taiwanese want to go home! We want to go home!" the group chanted.
Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said Beijing had "refused to cooperate."
"The Chinese side has used all kinds of reasons to stall and refused our plans and recommendations. We deeply regret this," he told reporters.
The delay in repatriation flights has been complicated by the decision by Taiwan's Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to ban non-Taiwan nationals from returning home with family members from the epidemic zone.
A woman who gave only her surname Lee said her 16-year-old son is stuck in Wuhan after going there to visit relatives over Lunar New Year.
"My son said his textbook said that the government of a country should guarantee the rights of its citizens to be educated and to return to that country," Lee said. "The Taiwan government has been saying that they are worried that they could be sick and that they won't let them go home."
"He said he's not sick, and that he's not a virus, so why are Taiwanese in Wuhan suddenly public enemies? I didn't know how to answer that," Lee said.
Public anger mounting in Hong Kong
A Taiwan resident surnamed Wu said his wife and child are also in Wuhan, and the MAC has been reluctant to give a time frame for future evacuation flights.
"We are fighting a virus, not our family members," Wu told RFA. "This is a human rights issue. They are refusing to let our family members come home because [they could be] sick."
"I call on the MAC not to shirk its responsibilities, and incite prejudice and discrimination," he said.
Meanwhile, public anger is mounting in Hong Kong amid an ongoing shortage of face masks and basic necessities like rice and toilet paper, as well as the government's policy on the repatriation of Hong Kong residents.
The city's secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, Patrick Nip, said the city's government and immigration department are following up on the status of some 2,200 Hong Kong people in and around Wuhan.
"We have been maintaining contact with them, arranging to send drugs to those in need by batches," he said. "Some have already arrived while some are on the way, and also providing them with hotlines as well as all the necessary assistance and support."
"Those who went to Hubei to visit their relatives did not anticipate that they would have to stay there for so long and they are anxious to come back," he said. "We have already started planning for their return arrangement."
But he said the city had to take into account the "actual situation," including the availability of quarantine facilities.
Chief executive Carrie Lam said the Hong Kong Centre for Health Protection (CHP) was also liaising with the Japanese health authorities over the Hong Kong residents quarantined aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
A recent poll by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute found that more than 75 percent of respondents were dissatisfied with the government's handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
The institute's head, Robert Chung, said the government has wasted an opportunity to restore public trust and popularity.
"It hasn't just wasted this opportunity; it has sunk even deeper, because of the anti-mask law," he said, referring to the highly controversial emergency law banning the wearing of masks in public during the protests of 2019.
"I think it is very likely that the public response to the outbreak is related to the political situation that preceded it," he said.
Hong Kong, with a shared border and close economic and family connections with mainland China, has seen 56 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one death. Many suspect that the authorities can now only impose border restrictions on Beijing's say-so, in spite of promises that the city would be in control of its own immigration after the 1997 handover to Chinese rule.
Taiwan, with its population of 23 million, says its 18 confirmed COVID-19 cases remain isolated from the community, and has reported no deaths so far.
Reported by Hwang Chun-mei and Lee Tsung-han for the Mandarin Service, and by Chung Kuang-cheng and Man Hoi-tsan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.