Hundreds of Taiwanese found themselves stranded in Hubei province when the Chinese government abruptly declared a lockdown of Wuhan that quickly expanded to cover virtually the entire province.
But after twelve days in limbo, the first group of 200 people finally left Wuhan Monday evening on a China Eastern flight and arrived at Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport at 11.10pm. The remaining people will be arranged to return on subsequent flights over the next few days.
503 people had signed up with Wuhan’s Taiwan Affairs Office to be repatriated back to Taiwan. Of these, 233 people were in Wuhan and the remainder scattered across Hubei province.
Evacuees were billed 1,200 yuan for the flight home. Upon arrival in Taiwan, they will be quarantined and put under medical supervision for 14 days before being allowed to return home.
Change of mind
As foreign nations scrambled to evacuate their nationals out of Hubei, the Taiwan government’s attempts to do the same were originally rebuffed by China.
A spokesperson from China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) had said on January 27 that no Taiwanese person has been diagnosed with the coronavirus and that all Taiwanese people in Hubei province were receiving “appropriate care.”
The TAO’s offices in Hubei province and Wuhan city were offering “care and concern” to the stranded individuals, “actively solving any problems and challenges they may meet in a timely fashion,” he added.
At an emotionally-charged press conference held in Taipei on Saturday, family members of those stranded in Hubei held up signs saying, “Come home.”
Hsu Cheng-wen, head of the Parents Association in Taipei, called on authorities on both sides of the straits to come to an agreement soon, so that stranded Taiwanese and their spouses from the mainland may return to Taiwan as soon as possible.
“Some of them didn’t bring much cash with them, some have kids that will be going to school soon, and others are about to lose their jobs,” he said.
“And then there are patients with chronic conditions like leukemia and heart disease that have no more meds. They all want to return home as soon as possible to continue work and school, and have no problem submitting to the 14 days quarantine.”
Most of the over 500 Taiwanese stuck in Hubei were in the province with their mainland spouses, or on business trips or private tours, Hsu said. Only 36 people were businesspeople based in Hubei.
Representation at the World Health Organization
The Taiwan government has criticized China’s blocking of its attempts to join the World Health Organization, saying its world-renowned health care system makes it a valuable partner in disease prevention efforts.
Blocking Taiwan’s participation in emergency meetings over political concerns compromises the welfare of its 23 million people, it argues.
Speaking on Thursday, Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen offered “concern and condolences” to the people affected by the Wuhan epidemic and said her government was willing to provide “necessary assistance” to Chinese authorities.
Chinese ambassador Li Song shot back at a WHO ministerial-level meeting on Monday, accusing Taiwan of making up “lies and excuses” in an attempt to join the organization.
Taiwan, he said, was already “adequately represented” at WHO through China.