Health officials in Taiwan say they warned the World Health Organization in December 2019 that the coronavirus could be passed via human-to-human contact, but the organization ignored its warnings, possibly due to its relationship with China, where the virus originated.
The Financial Times reported Friday that Taiwan made the claim, insisting the WHO didn’t communicate the possible ease of transmission early enough. Taiwan, the Times noted, “is excluded from the WHO because China, which claims it as part of its territory, demands that third countries and international bodies to not treat it in any way that resembles how independent states are treated.”
The Taiwanese health officials said doctors in the country learned that medical staff on mainland China were getting ill, suggesting human-to-human contact was possible. Officials in Taipei said they reported the information at the end of December 2019. Taiwanese government officials who spoke to the Times said their warnings were not shared by the WHO.
“While the [International Health Regulations’] internal website provides a platform for all countries to share information on the epidemic and their response, none of the information shared by our country’s [Centers for Disease Control] is being put up there,” Taiwan Vice President Chen Chien-jen told the Times. “The WHO could not obtain first-hand information to study and judge whether there was human-to-human transmission of Covid-19. This led it to announce human-to-human transmission with a delay, and an opportunity to raise the alert level both in China and the wider world was lost.”
Chen is an epidemiologist and was Taiwan’s health minister during the SARS outbreak, the Times reported.
In response, the WHO told the Times that it had to “hold frank and open discussions on sometimes sensitive issues” and “respect the confidentiality of such communications.”
The Times reported that the Who “has had to strike a delicate balance with China throughout the outbreak, with some accusing the organization of being too pliant while medical experts said it had coped admirably.”
The Daily Caller reported that weeks after Taiwan warned them, the WHO on January 14 said the coronavirus wasn’t transferred from human-to-human contact, parroting China’s claims at the time. Reuters reported that the WHO downplayed the potential transmission, saying for the first time on that day there may have been human-to-human transmission. On January 15, the head of China’s CDC emergency center claimed the risk of human-to-human transmission was “low.”
Bruce Aylward, a Canadian epidemiologist who led the WHO’s visit to Wuhan, where the virus originated, told the Times that the process was “fantastic” but admitted there was a “huge back and forth” between the organization and Chinese officials about what to include in the report. Specifically, Aylward told the Times that Chinese officials didn’t want to refer to the pathogen as “dangerous” and didn’t want to mention references to a “second wave.” They did, however, allow the report to discuss “a surge.”
Aylward told the outlet that he found the best way to get China to cooperate with WHO was to suggest that not doing so might lead to another Wuhan.
“They don’t want another Wuhan” he said, saying the phrasing was a “trigger point for them.”