Skip to main content

Chen to lead 'mobilization' meeting to prepare for possible H5N1 threat

2005-10-31 / Taiwan News, Staff Reporter /BY DENNIS ENGBARTH

President Chen Shui-bian will chair an expanded meeting of the National Security Council this afternoon to review the state of preparations for a general mobilization to prevent the possible spread of avian influenza in Taiwan.

Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang Jin-pyng, former Department of Health directors-general Lee Ming-liang and Chen Ming-jen and other health professionals have been invited to the meeting in addition to Premier Frank Hsieh and other concerned Cabinet officials.

During his "The People Decide" whistle-stop speech in Homei Township, Changhua County after appearances in Makung, Penghu County and Puli, Nantou County, the president confirmed he would convene a special meeting on avian flu today.

With DPP Changhua County Commissioner Weng Chin-chu at his side on a converted "Truck of Hope," Chen made no reference to yesterday's expulsion of former deputy presidential secretary-general Chen Che-nan from the governing Democratic Progressive Party.

Chen also refrained from direct criticism of Taipei City Mayor and opposition Kuomintang Chairman Ma Ying-jeou, whose 86-year old father Ma Ke-ling collapsed yesterday and remained in a coma last night.

A DPP spokesman stated that Chen called Ma to express his concern.

A look at history

Chen related that avian influenza had struck humans three times in the past century, with the most severe pandemic of "Spanish flu" taking millions of lives in 1918-1919.

The president noted that the most recent wave had originated in Asian nations, including Vietnam and Indonesia and that Japan, Russia, South Korea and China had already reported cases of avian flu infection and warned that "no country can escape," including Taiwan.

Noting that over 60 persons worldwide had already died from this deadly avian flu, Chen stated that "the question is not if avian flu will arrive but when."

Chen stated that if avian flu spread to Taiwan, it would inflict damage "10 times greater" than the impact of the attack of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in early 2003.

"Therefore we must pay attention and engage in a general mobilization to prevent the entry and spread of avian flu," declared Chen, who noted that Chinese sailors had almost succeeded in smuggling birds infected with the deadly H5N1 virus two weeks ago into Taiwan on a Panamanian registered vessel.

Chen related that SARS entered Taiwan society due to human failure in the enforcement of quarantine and care management errors made by Taipei City's Hoping Hospital and that the SARS epidemic had inflicted serious damage to the economy and tourism as well as taking 37 lives.

More harmful than SARS

The president warned that if avian flu entered Taiwan, "it would inflict over 10 times the harm as SARS."

Chen said that he had called an NSC meeting on August 19 to listen to reports from the DOH and Council of Agriculture and other agencies and instructed the Cabinet to "launch a general mobilization of prevention."

The actions prescribed at the time included determining how many vaccines and doses of anti-viral drugs were needed and drafting plans for their production or purchase.

Chen stated he had set a target for

Taiwan to stock enough medicine to treat 10 percent of the population based on the standards of the World Health Organization to face the possible epidemic, or at least 2.3 million doses of curative medicines such as Tamiflu.

"We will review the preparations made since August 19," declared Chen, who told the audience that they did not need to worry but must remain vigilant.

Noting that agricultural Changhua County was home to numerous chicken and duck farms and also featured marshland and nesting grounds for migrating birds, the president stated that "we absolutely cannot relax attention or ease regulatory measures."

Chen also took advantage of the occasion to criticize China for keeping Taiwan out of the World Health Organization and blocking Taiwan's effort to become even an observer at the World Health Assembly and warned that the absence of Taiwan was a "loophole" in the global health and anti-epidemic defense system.

Moreover, the president chided former KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) for failing to speak up for Taiwan's efforts when they met with People's Republic of China State Chairman and ruling Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) in separate meetings in Beijing in late April and early May, respectively.

Chen stated that "some people go to curry favor with China instead of upholding Taiwan and the national and health security of the Taiwan people."