Mainland Chinese authorities to allow two Taiwan specialists to visit Wuhan to gather information on pneumonia outbreak

Echo Xie

Mainland China has agreed to allow Taiwan to send two medical specialists to Wuhan to learn more about the viral pneumonia outbreak in the city.

Two scientists from Taiwan’s Centres for Disease Control would visit the central Chinese city “within days”, Chou Jih-haw, director general of the centre, said on Sunday.

“The mainland side agreed on Saturday evening that they would receive a delegation from Taiwan and we will send two experts [to Wuhan] very soon,” Chou said.

Taiwan, which the mainland regards as a wayward province, is not a member of the World Health Organisation. The approval by Beijing was based on a medical cooperation agreement signed between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait in 2010.

Mainland scientists have linked the outbreak to a new strain of coronavirus, with 41 cases – one of them fatal – confirmed so far in the city. Hong Kong has also reported 67 suspected cases.

Last Saturday, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said a 61-year-old man, who had also suffered from abdominal “tumours” and chronic liver disease, has died – making him the first confirmed fatality.

Chou said that Taiwan had not reported any cases related to the outbreak but it was watching the situation in Wuhan closely.

Separately, Dr Chui Tak-yi, undersecretary for Hong Kong’s Food and Health Bureau, will also visit Wuhan on Monday, together with representatives from the Department of Health and the Hospital Authority, to learn more about prevention and control measures and clinical management in the city, Hong Kong officials said.

In a related move, China’s National Health Commission announced on Saturday that it would share information on the genome sequence of the coronavirus with the World Health Organisation “to safeguard global health security”.

China appears to have taken a more active approach to publicising information and sharing medical data with outside experts during the Wuhan outbreak than it did during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) crisis of 2003, when more than 700 people died globally.

China was widely criticised over its handling of the Sars crisis after it delayed the reporting of infected cases and was reluctant to share data and samples with international health experts.

The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission released the first notice reporting the first cases of pneumonia on December 31 and has since continued to update the situations of the patients and their treatment.

Wuhan pneumonia: new strain ‘bears close similarity to Sars’ as Hong Kong health minister assures public city is prepared

Chinese medical experts have also been taken steps to share information about the new strain of coronavirus.

One day before the National Health Commission made its announcement, a consortium of specialists led by Zhang Yongzhen of Shanghai Public Health Clinical Centre & School of Public Health posted the genome sequence on an open-access website.

The group said that researchers were free to analyse and share the data, but asked that groups “communicate with us if you wish to publish results that use these data in a journal”.

The availability of the sequence information was revealed in a tweet posted by Edward Holmes, a virologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Sydney in Australia and also a member of the consortium.

The news was welcomed by scientists who had been worried about a lack of transparency.

“Potentially really important moment in global public health – must be celebrated, everyone involved in Wuhan, in China & beyond acknowledged, thanked & get all the credit,” Jeremy Farrar, head of the research charity, Wellcome Trust, in London, wrote in a tweet.

“Sharing of data good for public health, great for those who did the work. Just needs those incentives & trust.”

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