In an interview with FRANCE 24, Taiwan’s Vice President Chen Chien-jen, an epidemiologist by training, discussed his country’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, while criticising the response of China and the World Health Organization. Chen refused to rule out the “possibility” that the coronavirus originated in a Chinese laboratory in Wuhan. He also expressed concern about a second wave of the virus appearing in autumn or winter.
Taiwan has some 440 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and so far only six deaths, despite being relatively close to the epicentre of the virus. Vice President Chen Chien-jen told FRANCE 24 his country had been able to control the pandemic because it took a very early decision to quarantine travellers from the Chinese city of Wuhan and quickly isolate and trace confirmed cases. He explained that this rapid reaction was a result of the experience of the SARS outbreak in 2003.
Reacting to the Trump administration’s claims that the virus had most likely originated at a laboratory in Wuhan – and not a seafood market as claimed by China – Chen said this theory could not be ruled out but that the only way to know was a thorough scientific probe. “The origin of the virus has to be examined scientifically and so far we can see that the virus originated from Wuhan. Whether it is from a laboratory or from the natural infection sources needs further confirmation,” he said, adding that the laboratory theory was “one of the possibilities”.
He said that China clearly did not give the true figures of victims of the pandemic, saying that in the early stages, “only severe pneumonia cases were isolated and treated in hospital”, thereby underestimating the real figures.
Call for independent probe of WHO’s handling of pandemic
Chen claimed Taiwan had sent a clear warning to the World Health Organization on December 31, 2019 about the human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus and lambasted the WHO for brushing it aside. He also accused the organisation of reacting too late by declaring the virus a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” only at the end of January. He called for a full independent investigation into how the WHO handled the pandemic, echoing the US and Australia.
He claimed that Taiwan should be allowed to participate as an observer to the next meeting of the World Health Assembly scheduled on May 17, but added that China was opposed to it and that so far Taiwan had not been invited to the meeting.
The Taiwanese vice president also strongly refuted claims by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus that Taiwan had spread racist attacks against him.
‘I believe that a second wave definitely will come’
Chen, who is an epidemiologist by training, explained that he was concerned about a second wave of the virus in the coming months and said this was an additional reason for all countries to work closely together in fighting the virus. “Of course I believe that a second wave definitely will come. As of now, the population infected with the virus is too small to achieve herd immunity (…) I believe a second peak is likely to appear in autumn, winter this year. We have to keep on the surveillance of this virus to see whether it will become a seasonal infectious disease.”
Finally, asked whether he feared this health crisis would create even more tensions with China, Chen said he held out hope that it would on the contrary usher in more collaboration between Beijing and Taipei.