Taiwan on Tuesday said it was “disappointed and angry” with the World Health Organization (WHO) for not inviting Taipei to join this year’s World Health Assembly (WHA) which kicked off Monday.
Taiwan has been lobbying hard to join this year’s meeting as an observer after its success with containing the coronavirus outbreak. But it faced strong opposition from China, which claims Taiwan as its province with no right to its own diplomatic representation.
“We feel disappointed and angry about WHO’s decision of not inviting Taiwan to join this year’s WHA. We feel we have so much to share about our successful experiences in this Covid-19 outbreak response” said Yi-Chun Lo, deputy director general at Taiwan Centers for Disease Control.
On Monday, Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu said the issue of its participation would be put off until later in the year, so the assembly can focus on the coronavirus this time.
Despite its proximity to China, Taiwan has only reported 440 coronavirus cases and seven deaths so far even without a large-scale lockdown.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday said that the U.S. condemns Taiwan’s exclusion from the WHA.
“No one disputes that Taiwan has mounted one of the world’s most successful efforts to contain the pandemic to date, despite its close proximity to the original outbreak in Wuhan, China,” Pompeo said in a strongly worded statement.
Pompeo, a vocal China critic, also criticized Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
“Taiwan is a model world citizen, while the PRC (People’s Republic of China) continues to withhold vital information about the virus and its origins, deny access to their scientists and relevant facilities, censor discussion of the pandemic within China and on Chinese social media properties, and casts blame widely and recklessly,” said Pompeo.
Taiwan has been praised globally for its virus containment measures that included early control measures at the borders, in the community and in healthcare settings. It also uses a sophisticated contact tracing and quarantine network, Lo told CNBC’s “Street Signs” on Tuesday. The island has not posted any domestic cases for more than a month and is confident that there is “zero” community spread at the moment, said Lo.
He told CNBC the island shares concerns that China was not transparent with information about the outbreak at its onset. The Taiwan CDC deputy director general also said the WHO did not seriously regard information from Taiwan in December that suggested possible human-to-human transmission. The WHO has disputed Taiwan’s claims, saying that the island had not explicitly communicated that information.
Taiwan in vaccine race
Due to its exclusion from the WHO, Taiwan is relying on its own efforts in the race for a vaccine with health authorities working with academia and other industry partners, said Lo.
“Our major concern is because Taiwan is not included in WHO’s network, there might not be fair opportunity for Taiwan to get a share (from) the global vaccination program ,” said Lo.
“So we have to have our own manufacturers (really work) very hard on producing vaccine for our domestic purpose,” he said, adding that Taiwan would be happy to share any successful vaccine with the global community.
Lo said Taiwan’s communication with the WHO is “minimal” even now and that it is mostly an observer in the WHO’s clinical trial, infectious disease control and vaccine trial networks with no authority or right for information.
“We are trying very hard to participate in the networks as much as possible, but the opportunity is not granted fairly by the WHO so far since the start of the outbreak,” said Lo.