Taiwanese health officials have accused the World Health Organization of failing to communicate the country’s warning in December regarding possible human-to-human transmission of the Wuhan coronavirus, the Financial Times reported Friday.
The officials said doctors in Taiwan had learned from their colleagues in mainland China that medical staff were falling ill from the as-yet unnamed coronavirus, a sign of human-to-human transmission that Taiwan says it passed on to the WHO and Chinese authorities on December 31. However, the WHO did not communicate the information with other nations.
China forbids international organizations of which it is a member, such as the WHO, from recognizing Taiwan as a member in its own right. Chinese health authorities confirmed human-t0-human transmission of the coronavirus on January 20.
“While the [WHO] provides a platform for all countries to share information on the epidemic and their response, none of the information shared by our country’s [Centers for Disease Control] is being put up there,” said Taiwan’s vice president Chen Chien-jen. Chen is an epidemiologist who was Taiwan’s health minister during the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak.
“The WHO could not obtain first-hand information to study and judge whether there was human-to-human transmission of Covid-19,” Chen said. “This led it to announce human-to-human transmission with a delay, and an opportunity to raise the alert level both in China and the wider world was lost.”
Responding to the accusations, the WHO said it needed to “hold frank and open discussions on sometimes sensitive issues” which “requires that we respect the confidentiality of such communications.”
Chinese authorities have been accused of covering up reports of the spread of Wuhan coronavirus since its appearance in early patients. Officials in Wuhan in early January did not inform a medical team from Beijing about the highly contagious nature of the illness, and the city went ahead with its Lunar New Year celebrations later that month that brought thousands of visitors to Wuhan, facilitating the spread of the coronavirus.