Efforts continue to secure return of Taiwanese in Hubei: MAC

Chiu Chui-cheng (邱垂正) speaks at a press conference on Jan. 31, 2020. (CNA)
Chiu Chui-cheng (邱垂正) speaks at a press conference on Jan. 31, 2020. (CNA)

TAIPEI (CNA) — The government will continue to explore the feasibility of using a charter flight to bring home 400 Taiwanese in the Chinese province of Hubei, which the Chinese government has placed on lockdown in an effort to contain the deadly coronavirus outbreak, the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said Thursday.

The MAC, Taiwan’s top government agency handling cross-strait affairs, and the semi-official Straits Exchange Foundation have received 252 telephone calls since Jan. 24 seeking help for about 400 Taiwanese citizens who have been barred from leaving Hubei and returning to Taiwan, according to MAC Deputy Minister and Spokesman Chiu Chui-cheng (邱垂正).

The Chinese central government imposed a lockdown in Wuhan, the epicenter of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), as well as other cities in Hubei province on Jan. 23 to contain the outbreak of the deadly new virus.

The lockdown has prompted concerns as to whether the government should charter a flight to evacuate Taiwanese from the city. The MAC on Monday said it has asked Beijing about the possibility of a charter flight through existing communication channels.

However, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office did not offer a direct response on Tuesday, saying only that it received the faxed message.

Chiu said at a news conference Thursday that the MAC has asked Taiwanese business associations in Wuhan and neighboring areas to establish a liaison mechanism with Taiwanese stranded there in order to provide them with needed assistance.

Most of the Taiwanese currently in Hubei are not business people living in the province but individuals who traveled there for short-term business, sightseeing trips or private visits to see relatives. They have no fixed residence and are short on medical supplies, according to Chiu.

The MAC continues to communicate with Beijing on the matter and will make an announcement if it receives a response from the Chinese government.

Meanwhile, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said at another news conference Thursday that she is highly concerned about Taiwanese stranded in Wuhan and hopes to bring them back home.

Once they return to Taiwan they will be placed in isolation and quarantine, she added.

Taiwan has introduced appropriate prevention and control measures and is willing to provide China with any needed assistance in its fight to combat the coronavirus outbreak, she said.