COVID ‘could have been contained’: Taiwan’s ex-health minister

The coronavirus pandemic could have been contained if the authorities in Wuhan had notified the World Health Organization earlier and allowed an expert team to investigate in December 2019, according to Dr Chen Chien-jen, Taiwan’s former vice-president and health minister who made his name during the SARS [Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome] outbreak nearly 20 years ago.

“Transparency and openness is very important for the containment of infectious diseases,” Dr Chen told Al Jazeera in an interview. “If the situation in Wuhan was very well reported to the World Health Organisation and the WHO organised a team and went to Wuhan in mid-December 2019, I think the disease could have been contained and no other countries would have suffered.”

This week marks a year since the central Chinese city was sealed off and placed in a strict lockdown. A WHO team is now in Wuhan and is expected to begin on-the-ground investigations after completing a 14-day quarantine.

More than 97 million people around the world have now been diagnosed with COVID-19 and more than two million have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Dr Chen was Taiwan’s health minister during the SARS crisis and played a critical role in overhauling the island’s epidemic response system, which is credited with its relative success in keeping the coronavirus at bay.

Taiwan has so far seen just seven deaths and experienced an eight-month streak without a local infection for much of 2020, which ended in late December.

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