The repatriation of a second group of Taiwanese nationals stranded in Wuhan, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak, will not happen in the next two days (Feb. 5 and 6), the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said. A first group of 247 Taiwanese stuck in the central Chinese city after it came under lockdown on Jan. 23 returned home on the night of Feb. 3 on a China
A first group of 247 Taiwanese stuck in the central Chinese city after it came under lockdown on Jan. 23 returned home on the night of Feb. 3 on a China Eastern Airlines charter flight following the coordination of public agencies and private groups in Taiwan and China.
One of the evacuees tested positive for the coronavirus and became the 11th person in Taiwan with the respiratory illness while the others were placed in quarantine at three locations around Taiwan.
Hsu Cheng-wen (徐正文), the head of the Parents Association in Taipei who was involved in arranging the first charter flight, said Tuesday that a second group of Taiwanese nationals consisting of about 200 people would return from China on Wednesday.
The MAC, the Taiwanese agency responsible for handling cross-Taiwan Strait affairs, denied that at a press conference Wednesday.
"There is no truth to the claim that the second batch of Taiwanese nationals will return from China today or tomorrow," MAC Deputy Minister and spokesman Chiu Chui-cheng (邱垂正) said at the press conference.
Chiu said the claim was based on one-sided information and that no such arrangements had been made through bilateral negotiation or coordination.
Hsu acknowledged in an interview later Wednesday that the second batch of stranded Taiwanese in China would not be able to return home that day and it was also uncertain if it could happen the following day.
"We hope that both sides of the Taiwan Strait can be a little less political and have a little more humanitarian consideration. They (the stranded Taiwanese) are our compatriots, we should welcome them home with that in mind," Hsu said.
The two sides traded blame for the delay. Hsu showed a text message he said was sent by a local unit of the Taiwan Affairs Office to Taiwanese in Wuhan waiting to be evacuated that said: "The Taiwanese authorities did not allow the flight today. Therefore we cannot take you to the airport."
The delay may have been caused by Taiwan's lack of capacity to accommodate and handle such a huge number of high-risk people after having taken in nearly 250 people Monday night.
When asked by reporters whether Taiwan had enough space to accommodate another batch of Taiwanese evacuees, Chiu admitted that the capacity was "limited," without elaboration.
The MAC said in a separate statement that due to the limited capacity of the quarantine centers and the need for all returning Taiwanese to be isolated for 14 days, the Taiwan side needed to make preparations before the next evacuation to ensure that all evacuees will be properly attended to.
Taiwan authorities, however, called into question the procedures used to handle the initial charter flight after a person with the coronavirus was allowed on the plane.
The MAC urged Beijing to implement a more stringent and thorough inspection of the repatriated Taiwanese to avoid transmissions of the disease on the next charter flight.
Given that one of the evacuees had the coronavirus, the MAC said Taiwan's government will coordinate with the Chinese side on how to strengthen the inspection and quarantine process for future evacuations.
It has also asked the Chinese side to provide a complete list of the people to be evacuated at least one day before they are flown back to Taiwan.
That appeal came after Beijing did not comply with Taiwan's request that Taiwanese with chronic diseases, or who needed special medical care or who were in Wuhan on short business trips should be prioritized in the first evacuation, according to the MAC.
Meanwhile, after China's Taiwan Affairs Office announced that a third Taiwanese in China had been confirmed to have the coronavirus, Chiu urged Chinese authorities to provide them with the necessary medical care.
As of Wednesday afternoon, at least 491 people had died of the coronavirus -- most of them in Hubei province where Wuhan is located -- and more than 23,600 people were confirmed to be infected with the disease in China.