Taiwan offers virus help to China but tightens visitor rules

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan’s vice president-elect on Sunday offered help to rival China to fight the new coronavirus outbreak, as authorities in the island further tightened restrictions on visitors from China to prevent its spread.

FILE PHOTO: Foxconn employees wearing masks attend the company's year-end gala in Taipei, Taiwan January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Yimou Lee

Taiwan has close economic and cultural links with China and has so far reported four cases of the virus, which started in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei province and where most of the 56 deaths to date have been.

But political relations are tense. China has stepped up pressure on Taiwan, which it considers its own territory to be taken by force if needed, including holding military drills near the democratic island.

This month, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen won a landslide re-election after campaigning on a platform to stand up to China and defend Taiwan’s freedoms.

Writing on his Facebook page, however, Tsai’s Vice President-elect William Lai said both Taiwan and China had common enemies, including infectious diseases and disasters.

Lai said the spread of the coronavirus in China was an opportunity for cooperation, calling on Beijing to have an “open attitude” towards accepting international help.

“It is incumbent upon Taiwan to take part, and help China to solve this serious epidemic, so as not to allow it to continue to spread, and that the sick can get appropriate treatment to return to help,” he added, without elaborating on what help Taiwan may be willing to help.

Lai assumes his new position in May.

Taiwan has been angered by its exclusion from some World Health Organization meetings on the virus.

Taiwan is not a member of the WHO due to the objection of China, which considers it a Chinese province with no right to participate in international organizations as a separate entity.

Taiwan has already stopped Chinese tour groups from visiting, and on Sunday banned anyone from Hubei from coming to the island.

Most other Chinese citizens will not be allowed in for the time being, aside from people involved in fighting the virus or on humanitarian grounds, the island’s newly established Central Epidemic Command Center said in a statement.

Some Chinese business travelers will also be permitted entry, including people being re-located by multinational companies, but have to agree to have their health monitored for two weeks after entry, the command center said.

Spouses married to Taiwanese will have to stay in quarantine at home for the same period, it said.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Tom Hogue and Helen Popper