• On Saturday, a clip from an interview between Yvonne Tong and WHO adviser Bruce Aylward went viral on Twitter
  • Aylward abruptly ended the interview after being asked about Taiwan in relation to the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak
  • Taiwan officials claim they were ignored by the WHO in December when they tried to warn the novel coronavirus was capable of human-to-human transmission

A shocking clip from an interview between Yvonne Tong, a reporter from Radio Television Hong Kong, and Bruce Aylward, a senior adviser to World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom, was abruptly ended when Taiwan was mentioned. The clip went viral on Saturday, receiving over four million views on Twitter alone in under 24 hours.

Things became awkward when Tong asked Aylward, “Will the WHO reconsider Taiwan’s membership?” Aylward stared blankly into his camera until Tong finally broke the silence by saying, “Hello?” “I’m sorry. I couldn’t hear your question Yvonne.” Tong responded, “Okay, let me repeat the question.” Aylward cut Tong off and replied, “No that’s okay. Let’s move to another one then.”

Tong remained persistent and replied, “I’m actually curious in talking about Taiwan as well. On Taiwan’s case.” Aylward responded by ending the video chat. Tong sat in silence for a moment before she called Aylward back. “I just want to see if you can comment a bit on how Taiwan has done so far in terms of containing the virus.” Aylward responded, “Well, we’ve already talked about China and you know, when you look across all the different areas of China, they’ve actually all done quite a good job. So with that, I’d like to thank you very much for inviting us to participate, and good luck as you go forward with the battle in Hong Kong.” At that point, Aylward ended the interview.

Officials in Taiwan attempted to warn the WHO in December that China was not being truthful about the transmission of SARS-CoV-2. The warning came after doctors in Taiwan learned from their colleagues in mainland China that medical staff were becoming infected with the novel coronavirus. This was a huge red flag that SARS-CoV-2 was capable of human-to-human transmission. That piece of information was critical at the time and could have helped to contain the disease before it became a global pandemic. When Taiwan officials tried to inform the WHO, they were ignored. Not only was Taiwan’s valid concerns ignored, the WHO went as far as to echo China’s propaganda in a tweet on January 14.

China has barred Taiwan from having a WHO membership. China’s powerful global diplomatic pressure has also made it so Taiwan can no longer attend the WHO’s annual World Health Assembly, even as an observer. In 1971, Taiwan left the United Nations after China joined. While Taiwan is self-ruled, China still claims sovereignty over the state. China uses its diplomatic power to prevent Taiwan from joining any organizations that require statehood for membership. In February, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic claimed Taiwan is allowed to access information about SARS-CoV-19. Jasarevic also claimed the WHO was taking SARS-CoV-2 data from Taiwan. That claim was argued by Taiwan’s Vice President Chen Chien-jen in the past who claimed none of the SARS-CoV-2 information Taiwan shared with the WHO was used during the most crucial point for containment of the virus.

It is highly unlikely China did not know human-to-human transmission was rampant with SARS-CoV-2. According to government data seen by the South China Morning Post, the first case of COVID-19 was potentially seen as early as November. The data tracked the virus back to a 55-year-old from Hubei province that may have been the first person to contract COVID-19 on November 17. From that point, cases were reported daily.

By December 15, there were 27 official cases and by December 20, the total had reached 60 cases. On December 27, Zhang Jixian, a doctor from Hubei Provincial Hospital of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine, told health authorities in China that COVID-19 was caused by a novel coronavirus. There were 180 people known to be infected by that point. On December 31, there were 266 cases and by New Year’s Day, the total climbed to 381. Two weeks later the WHO shared China’s claim that there was “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission” of SARS-CoV-2.

The WHO initially echoed China’s propaganda that the first confirmed case occurred on December 8. The organization relies on nations to provide them with accurate information. In at least one medical journal in The Lancet, doctors from Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan claimed the first known infection to be December 1. At that time Chinese officials were doing whatever they could to keep the developing pandemic a secret from both residents and the global community.

A Wuhan doctor, Ai Fen, was reprimanded after a picture related to the virus went viral on social media. On December 30, Fen received the lab results of one case that contained the words, “SARS coronavirus.” Fen circled the words, took a photo and sent it to a former medical school classmate who was a doctor at another hospital in Wuhan. By that evening the photo was shared to social media where it went viral. It was even shared by Li Wenliang, the now-deceased Wuhan doctor and whistleblower that received international support for breaking the government-mandated silence.

That night Fen received a message from her hospital telling her information about the mysterious virus should not be arbitrarily released to avoid causing panic. Two days later, the hospital’s disciplinary inspection committee reprimanded Fen for “spreading rumors” and “harming stability.” As medical staff watched more and more patients come into the hospital they were forbidden from sharing pictures or messages related to the outbreak. Fen went against the instructions of hospital authorities and requested her staff begin wearing protective clothing.

The staff saw countless infected patients with no relation to the Wuhan seafood market initially believed to be the origin point of SARS-CoV-2. In a recent interview with Renwu, Fen said she “knew there must be human to human transmission.” That interview has since been removed from Renwu but people have done their best to preserve it through screenshots. At that time Chinese officials were still denying human-to-human transmission. It was not until January 21 that Chinese health authorities finally confirmed human-to-human transmission. By that point, the number of patients had increased to upwards of 1,500 a day. It is not clear if Fen was one of the eight whistleblowers reprimanded at the start of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak.

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