The World Health Organisation has praised Taiwan’s efforts to contain Covid-19 as it faced growing pressure to incorporate the island into the global fight against the pandemic.
Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, told a regular briefing in Geneva on Friday that the authorities in Taiwan “deserve praise. They have mounted a very good public health response in Taiwan, and you can see that in the numbers. We have praised that, we have seen similar approaches taken in Hong Kong SAR and across China”.
He had been asked to comment about the island’s exclusion from the global body and said: “We are observing and watching and bringing Taiwanese colleagues into the technical networks so they can share their experience and they can both contribute their knowledge but also seek new knowledge from outside.”
It is rare for WHO officials to acknowledge the island’s success in containing the disease despite the growing controversy about its exclusion from the body.
Beijing considers the self-ruled island to be a breakaway Chinese province and opposes its membership of all international organisations.
Despite its closeness to the Chinese mainland, Taiwan has only reported a small number of infections from the disease that has killed more than 150,000 people worldwide.
As of Saturday Taiwan recorded 398 infections and six deaths
The WHO’s director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has accused the Taiwanese government of tolerating a campaign of death threats and racist insults against him and did not respond to the question about Taiwan in Friday’s press briefing.
His repeated praise for China’s response to the outbreak has also led to mounting accusations that he is biased towards Beijing.
Last month one of his most senior advisers, Bruce Aylward, also dodged a question about Taiwanese membership during an interview with the Hong Kong broadcaster RTHK.
The WHO’s legal officer Steve Solomon said on Friday that Taiwan’s membership was a decision for the organisation’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly, which consists of delegations from all the member states.
The WHO has repeatedly said that it has been in contact with Taiwanese experts since the start of the outbreak, but the island’s government has complained that it has been denied access to vital information and excluded from emergency meetings and briefings.
Last week, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen denied the WHO’s claim that it had been maintaining regular technical exchanges with the island, saying 70 per cent of its requests for meetings in the past 10 years had been denied.
On Wednesday, Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Centre confirmed that it had been discussing its Covid-19 response with WHO officials and described that as a good start after years of being unable to participate.