President Says Taiwan Must Join World Health Organization to Fight Coronavirus

taiwan-who.jpg Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen speaks during a press conference at the presidential office in Taipei, Jan. 22, 2020.

President Tsai Ing-wen called on Thursday for Taiwan to be allowed to join the World Health Organization (WHO), saying the democratic island is at the "front line" of the coronavirus epidemic that has seen tens of millions of people quarantined in central China.

Tsai told journalists that the democratic island, which has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, nor formed part of the People's Republic of China, is on "high alert" over the coronavirus outbreak.

"Like all other countries, Taiwan is currently facing the risk from this global pandemic," Tsai told a news conference, speaking hours before the WHO on Thursday declared the outbreak a global emergency. "We have the capability and the responsibility to do our part for the international community, and we hope that the WHO will not exclude Taiwan for political reasons."

"The WHO must make room for Taiwan's participation," she said, thanking the United States, Japan and Canada for backing Taiwan's membership of the WHO.

"The coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China has made it clear to the world just how important Taiwan is to disease prevention efforts," she said.

Tsai's comments came as the island's disease control center confirmed its second domestic case of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), bringing the total number of confirmed cases to nine.

The woman, in her 40s, is believed to have contracted the virus from her husband, who developed respiratory symptoms after coming back to the island from Wuhan on Jan. 12 and developed respiratory symptoms on Jan. 22, epidemic response command center chief Chen Shih-chung said.

Doctors believed his symptoms were "too mild" to qualify as a suspected 2019-nCoV case, so it wasn't initially reported as such, Chen said.

Critic of Taiwan's exclusion

Taiwan's government said it would hand out surgical masks as part of infection control measures to civil servants and healthcare workers, distributing the remainder to local stores and pharmacies.

Tsai -- who was asked why she wasn't wearing a mask at her news briefing -- said the island has plenty to go around, but that the majority of people still don't need one unless they have a connection to a known case.

She said anyone who had recently traveled to Hubei would be subject to home quarantine for 14 days to prevent a possible outbreak in the community.

"We will continue to strictly monitor travelers with a history of travel to China and enforce stringent requirements for truthful declarations upon entry to Taiwan, as well as rigorous follow-up," she said.

Tsai has been an outspoken critic of China's insistence that Taiwan be excluded from membership of international agencies, as well as its requirement that its diplomatic partners break off ties with Taipei.

She has warned that the People's Republic of China under President Xi Jinping is a threat to global stability, and not just Taiwan's problem.

Earlier this week, China denied Tsai's administration permission to evacuate around 300 Taiwan nationals currently stranded in Wuhan, prompting sharp criticism from Taiwan's democratically elected lawmakers.

Fan Yun, a lawmaker for Tsai's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), hit out at Beijing for preventing Taiwanese from leaving the city like other non-Chinese nationals.

"Is the Chinese Communist Party going to take these Taiwanese people hostage? What do they want in exchange?" Fan said. "They are risking people's lives to play politics."

Reported by Chung Kuang-cheng for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Hsia Hsiao-hwa for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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