When Taiwan first heard of the mysterious pneumonia in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the country's health officials immediately sent the World Health Organization an email asking for more information. This four-sentence email has since fueled the political brawl between the U.S. and China and threatens to destroy the reputation of the U.N.'s health agency.

Taiwan and the U.S. were able to seize the arguing that WHO ignored an early warning that coronavirus can be transmitted between people. In the weeks that follow December 31, WHO reiterated China's statement that no evidence has suggested the possibility of human-to-human transmission, even if cases began to rise, which raises suspicion of contagion.

According to Dr Lo Yi-chun, the Deputy Director-General of Taiwan's Centers for Disease Control (CDC), "WHO provided a false sense of security to the world." In which the organization has defended that they relied on member countries like China to report their findings accurately. Furthermore, Taiwan's email did not explicitly mention human-to-human transmission, and that it was not the first nor the only country to contact them about the disease.

The scrutiny on WHO intensified as Trump cited Taiwan's email as evidence of cover-up on the actual severity of the outbreak. He threatened to make the funding freeze permanent referencing "repeated missteps" and "not sharing Taiwan's email." Trump said he could no longer commit American's dollars to the agency unless there is a significant improvement in the next 30 days.

The Email: Early Communication About the Coronavirus

On December 31, Dr Lo at Taiwan's CDC was alerted by his colleagues in the media monitoring unit of social media posts about pneumonia of an unknown case in Wuhan. Although the original post was deleted, some people reposted a screenshot of it and posted on PTT, a popular online forum in Taiwan.

Many feared that it could be a resurgence of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed 774 people back in 2002 and 2003.

Being an infectious disease expert, Lo looked at the images of laboratory reports and messages of doctors and suspected that something new is causing the pneumonia-like disease. He then instructed his colleague to contact their Chinese counterpart and the WHO to ask for more information, through the International Health Regulations mechanism, a WHO framework of exchange between countries.

At around 1:30 pm, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission announced 27 cases, but said that investigators had not found any clear evidence of "human-to-human transmission." It took three weeks before China confirmed on state T.V. that it could spread between people. Two days later, WHO said that data "suggests that human-to-human transmission is taking place in Wuhan."

But Taiwan did not wait to step up precautions as they did not receive any response from either of the two- and has begun instituting health screenings for all flights arriving from Wuhan, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu tells TIME.

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Countries Start Scrutinizing WHO

As the full extent of the outbreak came into focus, government officials, health experts, editorial boards, and academics around the world, began scrutinizing the agency. People have started calling it as the "Chinese Health Organization" due to its links to Beijing, noted deputy prime minister Taro Aso of Japan.

Furthermore, the agency was also accused of creating a false sense of reassurance to the public by continuing to commend Beijing's "transparency" despite reports of possible undercounting. In their defense, WHO said that member states have the responsibility for reporting truthful information in a timely and accurate manner.

But for Taiwan, its history with SARS fueled its skepticism that is why even without a response from China and WHO they have started their own precautionary measures. Taiwan is not a member of the WHO and only comes to meetings under the name of Chinese Taipei as an observer. But their efforts during this time has the Trump administration advocating for the country to be a part of the agency.

Taiwan has agreed to postpone its bid for participation so that the agency and its members can focus on addressing the outbreak.

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