Groups petition for support for healthcare workers, limits on evacuees

A traveler pulls a suitcase at Taiwan Taoyan International Airport. (CNA)
A traveler pulls a suitcase at Taiwan Taoyan International Airport. (CNA)

TAIPEI (CNA) — Two civic groups in Taiwan have launched an online petition, calling on the government to provide greater support to healthcare workers and to limit the evacuation of Taiwanese from China, amid the escalation of the deadly novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

The petition, which was initiated Saturday, had garnered more than 220,000 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.

Launched by the Taiwan Labor Union for Clinical Laboratory (台灣醫事檢驗產業公會), and the Chiayi City Caregivers Labor Union (嘉義市照顧服務員職業工會), it says the government should ensure that healthcare workers have adequate medical supplies and resources since they are on the frontlines of the battle against the 2019-nCoV.

On the second issue, the group urged the government to take the lead in identifying the Taiwanese who should be evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus.

Taiwanese who have emergency needs should be given priority, but the government should first ensure that it has adequate hospital facilities and can place them in negative-pressure isolation units when they arrive, if they are suspected of having the disease, the groups said.

Government data shows there are currently 1,100 negative-pressure isolation units in Taiwan.

Kuo Yi-chen (郭沂蓁), head of Taiwan Labor Union for Clinical Laboratory, meanwhile, called on the government to provide more medical resources, including surgical masks and gloves, to clinical laboratory technicians, saying their workload has increased significantly due to the 2019-nCoV outbreak.

In response to the petition, Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) Deputy Commander Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥) said the government is still in talks with the Chinese side on the evacuation of Taiwanese in Wuhan.

Taiwan is sticking to the terms that priority should be given to people with chronic diseases, those who need regular medication, the elderly, children, and Taiwanese on short business trips in Wuhan, Hubei Province.

The evacuation of Taiwanese in Wuhan became a controversial issue after the first group of 247 evacuees arrived in Taiwan on Feb. 3 and it was discovered that some of them had not been on the priority list the Taiwan government had provided to the China side.

One of the evacuees who was not the list later tested positive for 2019-nCoV, becoming the 11th person in Taiwan to be diagnosed with the virus.

Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) subsequently announced the suspension of the evacuation plan until it could be managed via the established communication channels between the two sides, rather than by private groups.

The Feb. 3 evacuation was organized mainly by Hsu Cheng-wen (徐正文), a Taiwanese businessman who sits on the Central Committee of the opposition Kuomintang, and a self-help group that he assembled for that purpose.

Amid the controversy over the people who has been evacuated, Hsu said his group had provided the Chinese side with a list of 244 people to be evacuated in the first batch and he did not know how the other three were included.

Last week, the Hubei cross-strait affairs office said there were still 900 Taiwanese in the province who had applied for transportation assistance to return home and were awaiting a response.

Taiwan has so far recorded 18 confirmed 2019-nCoV cases.