Taiwan has released the text of a Dec. 31 email to the World Health Organization in which it alerted the WHO to its concerns over what turned out to be the start of the coronavirus outbreak in China.
The terse email, written at a time when there was no awareness of what was to come, began by saying, “News resources today indicate that at least seven atypical pneumonia cases were reported in Wuhan, CHINA.”
“Their health authorities replied to the media that the cases were believed not SARS, however the samples are still under examination, and cases have been isolated for treatment,” the email said, adding, “I would greatly appreciate it if you have relevant information to share with us.”
“We have asked how they communicated this to us, because we are only aware of that one email that makes no mention of human-to-human transmission, but they haven’t replied,” the WHO said in a statement.
— MOHW of Taiwan (@MOHW_Taiwan) April 11, 2020
Taiwan’s health minister, Chen Shih-chung, said the email was clear in its language.
“If being treated in isolation is not a warning, then what is?” he said on Saturday.
Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control elaborated upon the email in a statement on its website.
“Owing to its experience with the SARS epidemic in 2003, Taiwan vigilantly kept track of information about the new outbreak,” the statement said.
“On December 31, 2019, Taiwan sent an email to the International Health Regulations (IHR) focal point under the World Health Organization (WHO), informing WHO of its understanding of the disease and also requesting further information from WHO.”
SARS emerged from China, as did the coronavirus.
“Given the lack of clarity at the time, as well as the many rumors that were circulating, Taiwan’s aim was to ensure that all relevant parties remained alert, especially since the outbreak occurred just before the Lunar New Year holiday, which typically sees tremendous amounts of travel,” the statement added.
“To be prudent, in the email we took pains to refer to atypical pneumonia, and specifically noted that patients had been isolated for treatment. Public health professionals could discern from this wording that there was a real possibility of human-to-human transmission of the disease. However, because at the time there were as yet no cases of the disease in Taiwan, we could not state directly and conclusively that there had been human-to-human transmission.”
As late as Jan. 14, just days before the U.S. decided to screen travelers from China who were entering the U.S., the WHO was repeating China’s claim that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission of the virus.
Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in #Wuhan, #China🇨🇳. pic.twitter.com/Fnl5P877VG
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) January 14, 2020
Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University, said that if Taiwan had been a member of the WHO and been heeded, “we would have learned at least two weeks earlier of the threat we were facing.”
“In addition, we would have learned at least six weeks earlier that the outbreak could be successfully suppressed and how to do so,” he told NBC News. “The experience of the last three months shows that exclusion of Taiwan from the WHO decreases the effectiveness of the WHO and increases risks to the world.”
Taiwan, an island off the coast of mainland China, is where Chinese nationalists fled after losing the Chinese Civil War to Mao Zedong and the Community Party in 1949.
Relations between the communist Chinese government and Taiwan have ebbed and flowed over the years, with the current regime taking forceful exception to any recognition of Taiwan.
“Despite the WHO’s purported mission to operate as an apolitical international institution within the United Nations, recent media reports suggest that the WHO helped Beijing disseminate propaganda, downplayed the extent of the disease, and possibly delayed ordering a public health emergency,” a letter from GOP members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform read.
“Given the actions and statements of WHO officials during the past few months, we are concerned that the WHO is no longer serving the needs of the world and is instead taking its cues from China.”
“Throughout the crisis, the WHO has shied away from placing any blame on the Chinese government, which is in essence the Communist Party of China. You, as leader of the WHO, even went so far as to praise the Chinese government’s ‘transparency’ during the crisis, when, in fact, the regime has consistently lied to the world by underreporting their actual infection and death statistics. During the crisis, the WHO has repeatedly relied on false information from the Chinese government,” the letter added.
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