Taiwan, WHO again spar over controversial email to WHO

(CNA file photo)

TAIPEI (CNA) — Taiwan and the World Health Organization (WHO) have again traded barbs over the email Taiwan sent to the WHO at the end of last year that it says alerted the world health body to possible human-to-human transmission of the new coronavirus but was ignored.

The latest flap came after WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was asked at a press briefing Monday about the exact hour when the WHO received Taiwan’s email sent on Dec. 31, 2019, and if the WHO ignored its warnings of human-to-human transmission of the disease.

“One thing that has to be clear is the first email was not from Taiwan. Many other countries were already asking for clarification. The first report came from Wuhan,” said Tedros.

“Taiwan didn’t report any human-to-human transmission,” he stressed.

MOFA spokeswoman Joanne Ou (歐江安) responded Tuesday that the key point was not which country first informed the WHO of the epidemic but the global health body’s evaluation and handling of the matter.

She said Taiwan hoped the WHO Secretariat would give a further explanation as to which countries gave relevant reports in the initial period after the coronavirus outbreak began in Wuhan late last year and how the WHO dealt with the information.

Taiwan in March publicized the email as providing an early warning to the WHO. According to Chou Jih-haw (周志浩), director-general of the CDC, Taiwan said in the email that it was aware of a respiratory illness in Wuhan and was worried about the possibility of human-to-human transmission.

The claim has been used by Taiwan, international media and the United States in attacking the WHO for dropping the ball in its response, including by not identifying human-to-human transmission of the disease until Jan. 20.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus tweeted on March 24: “Dec. 31 — that’s the same day Taiwan first tried to warn WHO of human-to-human transmission.”

U.S. President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter on April 17: “Why did the W.H.O. Ignore an email from Taiwanese health officials in late December alerting them to the possibility that CoronaVirus could be transmitted between humans?”

When the actual content of the email was revealed by Taiwan on April 11, it did not mention human-to-human transmission and asked if the WHO had any information on the issue.

The email read: “News resources today indicate that at least seven atypical pneumonia cases were reported in Wuhan, CHINA. Their health authorities replied to the media that the cases were believed not SARS; however the samples are still under examination, and cases have been isolated for treatment.

“I would greatly appreciate it if you have relevant information to share with us. Thank you very much in advance for your attention to this matter,” the email concluded.

Ou on Tuesday repeated Taiwan’s contention that although Taiwan did not “clearly state the possibility of human-to-human transmission in that email due to no confirmed cases in Taiwan at that time, public health professionals should have had the ability to judge the possibility based on the content of Taiwan’s e-mail.”

WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said on Monday, however, that Taiwan did not tell the WHO anything it did not already know.

“There was no reference made in that query to anything other than to what had previously been reported in news media and actually referred to a response from the Wuhan health authorities clarifying and confirming that the cases existed,” he said.

“The information from Taiwan was in line with information that we had received from other sources,” Ryan said

He pointed to “more detailed” information received on Dec. 31 through its Epidemic Intelligence from Open Sources platform from Wuhan describing the cluster.