Straits Times: Health Minister gains fans even as Taiwan grapples with evacuation quandary, new coronavirus cases

TAIPEI – As the authorities try to shape plans for future evacuations of Taiwanese stranded in coronavirus-hit Wuhan, an unlikely star emerged amid the tumult of the island government’s disease prevention work.

Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung has been praised by citizens for his hands-on approach in supervising the quarantine procedures and the efforts to speed up the evacuation, as well as the daily press conference he held to brief citizens on coronavirus updates.

Local media outlets tallied up Mr Chen’s schedules in the past week and deduced that he had gone more than 48 hours without sleep by Wednesday (Feb 5), having held press conferences and accompanied the evacuees to their respective quarantine centres in a protective suit.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said on Wednesday that any plans to evacuate Taiwanese citizens from Wuhan are currently on hold due to controversies surrounding the first evacuation attempt.

“Because of the confirmed case in the first group of returnees, both China and Taiwan have to raise the bar for disease prevention measures, especially because the first list of returnees didn’t turn out according to our initial negotiations (with China),” said MAC Minister Chen Ming-tong on Wednesday, adding that there would be no charter flights in the next two days.

The Taiwan Centres for Disease Control later confirmed the rumours saying that there were three more evacuees than the 244 China had initially listed, and among the group were many who were not Taiwanese.

In the wake of the furore over these developments, citizens have rallied around their Health Minister.

A hashtag calling for Mr Chen to take a break has gone viral, especially after he was seen dabbing away tears at a press conference on Tuesday as he confirmed Taiwan’s 11th confirmed case.

Netizens flocked to the ministry’s Facebook page to comment that Mr Chen ought to rest. Under a post about a hotline number people can call to help the homeless and the elderly on cold days, a netizen commented: “1957 (the hotline number), the Minister needs help. He needs to sleep well, and the cold day will be better.”

Another wrote, “We may not have the WHO, but we have Minister Chen and the amazing group of ministry officials to keep Taiwan safe.”

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