Taiwanese in Wuhan can come home on charter or ‘designated’ flights: Cabinet

TAIPEI (CNA) — The Cabinet said Wednesday Taiwanese stranded in Wuhan will be able to return home on charter or “pre-designated” flights once the lockdown on the Chinese city is lifted on April 8, but said the system requiring them to obtain special permission to return home will not change.

On Tuesday, the Cabinet and Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) were at odds over how to allow the Taiwanese in Wuhan to return.

Premier Su Tseng-chang, who heads the Cabinet, advocated charter flights, while the head of the CECC, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), suggested allowing them to board regular commercial flights home and agreed to the same 14-day home-quarantine as other people entering the country.

On Wednesday, Cabinet spokeswoman Kolas Yokata said the Cabinet and the CECC agreed on mainly using charter flights but also allowing pre-designated flights.

Just as important, she said, was maintaining the National Immigration Agency’s (NIA’s) list of just over 1,300 Taiwanese from Wuhan to control their return because information on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in China is not open and transparent, making it hard to verify if the outbreak has waned, as Chinese authorities claim.

“To protect the health of the people in Taiwan, the list of people needing permission to return will not be canceled,” she said, and the Taiwanese in Wuhan will still have to take charters or pre-designated flights to return to Taiwan.

Quarantine and protection measures will be carried out on those passengers before boarding, and upon their arrival, they will be isolated at designated quarantine locations for 14 days, Kolas said, the same system used for the three charter flights that evacuated Taiwanese from Wuhan.

Many Taiwanese nationals have been stuck in Wuhan – the epicenter of the COVID-19 epidemic – since the city was put on lockdown on Jan. 23 and have tried to return to Taiwan since then.

Just over 600 returned on charter flights on Feb. 3, March 10, and March 11 but many others remain there. Those still in Wuhan had their hopes lifted when China announced Tuesday that Wuhan will be opened up on April 8, but it was uncertain how they would be allowed back into Taiwan.

They were particularly concerned about the list that restricts their ability to return home on the commercial flights of their choice and leaves them at the mercy of arrangements made between China and Taiwan.

Kolas held open the “pre-designated” flight model. There still are direct flights connecting China and Taiwan from four destinations in China – Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Xiamen — and for the stranded Taiwanese in Wuhan to return home, they could fly to those cities to catch the “pre-designated flights” on their own expense, according to Kolas.

The “pre-designated” flight model has been previously used to evacuate a Taiwanese teenager who was running out of medicine for his hemophilia.

He and his mother traveled from Wuhan to Chengdu to catch a designated China Airlines flight home and were met by a Taiwanese nurse who had traveled on the flight to Wuhan to check on the boy before allowing him to board.

Special arrangements were also made in the plane to isolate the boy and his mother from other passengers in case they had COVID-19.

The Cabinet’s announcement drew complaints from some Hubei Taiwanese who expressed their strong desire to be removed from what they called the “travel blacklist” and return to Taiwan for work as soon as possible on flights of their own choice after having been stranded there for two months.

“How much longer do we have to wait for the government’s ‘alternative charter flights’?” “Can they take all of us back to Taiwan?” they wondered.

Also, as the outbreak in China is cooling down, they could not understand why they still have to be on the NIA list that restricts their right to return home while Taiwanese in other countries with severe outbreaks are not on a list and “are welcomed home.”

Asking the government to treat them fairly, the Wuhan Taiwanese said Wednesday in a statement, “we are (Taiwan) citizens, not some secondary people.”

On Tuesday, a group of Taiwanese still in Hubei told CNA that “we just want to go home quickly, whether via a charter flight or by removing us from the list.”

“We have all tested negative for the disease, and we are all healthy. We will definitely cooperate with disease prevention measures when we return to Taiwan,” they said, adding that they hope the government will give them a clear answer soon.