The first batch of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines arrived at Taoyuan International Airport this evening, and aircraft watchers noted that the flight path deviated significantly from the usual route, completely avoiding flying over Chinese airspace, Apple Daily reported today, May 28.
Flight CI5556 landed at 5:00 pm after taking off from Dubai earlier in the day. Originally scheduled to land at 3:57 pm, the flight was delayed for around one hour in Dubai.
Apple Daily suggested that the flight delay was due to a last minute change to the flight plan, as the CI5556 flight usually flies from Dubai by a straight and direct route over China. However, China Airlines would only say that “the flight route is carried out in accordance with the flight plan,” whatever that means.
A Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) spokesperson, when asked about the one hour delay in Dubai during a regular press conference this afternoon, said the delay was due to refueling.
As for why the vaccine flight avoided not only flying over Chinese territory, but making an apparently wide bypass, one can only speculate, but according to Liberty Times, the flight path was deliberately changed before take-off this morning. The change was made specifically to avoid the China Flight Information Region, despite an additional 2 hours flight time, and the burning of an extra 22,000 pounds of fuel.
The flight took off from Luxembourg at midnight last night Taiwan time, just hours after CECC Director and Minister of Health and Welfare, Chen Shih-chung announced the procurement and delivery of the vaccine.
Just two days ago, the national government faced turmoil, and the Central Epidemic Command Center was appearing to actually lose command, as opposition KMT (Chinese Nationalist Party) county and city mayors, political pundits, and “blue” media outlets slammed the Democratic Party led government, and the CECC for being too slow and ineffective in vaccine delivery.
Taking advantage of a population gripped in fear and panic as hospitals in the capital filled up with people returning positive results for COVID-19 using rapid screening tests deployed around Greater Taipei and beyond, the opposition parties clamored for the right to bypass national health authorities and legal restrictions to directly import vaccines from China into Taiwan. The very sovereignty of Taiwan was threatened, as the Chinese Communist Party’s Taiwan Affairs Office said that China “is willing to quickly make arrangements for the majority of Taiwan compatriots to have the Chinese vaccines available as soon as possible.”
“Facing the increasingly severe epidemic situation on the island and the constant pressure of epidemic prevention by the majority of Taiwan compatriots, some groups and people on the island continue to call for the purchase of mainland vaccines,” Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson Zhu Fenglian said.
And it was true that by May 26, some polls by pro-China media showed a more than 70% support for importing vaccines from China.
China’s reputation appeared to be changing from a threat, to the savior of Taiwan in the face of incompetent “DPP authorities” currently in charge of democratic Taiwan.
On May 25, Chen would only say that Taiwan would have another 2 million doses of vaccine by the end of June. For a large segment of the population the end of June was just too far away to contemplate. For the next two days the clamor for Chinese vaccines reached a crescendo. For many people the race was coming down to Chinese vaccines despite the health and political risks, or an almost certain death by COVID-19.
Even the USA appeared to throw Taiwan under the bus at the height of the dilemma when the outgoing director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) signaled that Washington was in no hurry to send COVID-19 to Taiwan.
China was offering Taiwan vaccines, the opposition-led municipal authorities, with the support of a majority of the population were willing to bypass the central authorities to take them, and the USA was saying it was not in a hurry to help.
For two days, the possibility that the only shots exchanged in a war for “unification of the motherland” would be shots of Sinopharm vaccine into the arms of a willing Taiwanese population.
As this was happening, Chen Shih-chung knew the Moderna vaccine was due to be loaded onto a plane in Luxembourg, May 27, but he and others in the government kept their lips sealed.
Was he worried that if he let this be known, that Beijing would interfere, as they had when Taiwan was at the last stage of inking a deal with Pfizer BNT?
Yesterday, evening, only once the 150,000 doses of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines were loaded onto the CAL Cargo 747 did Chen announce that the vaccine was arriving “tomorrow.”
The nation appeared to breathe a sigh of relief.
President Tsai Ing-wen wrote in a Facebook post, ““This is good news that Taiwan needs now.”
President Tsai thanked Minister Chen. “No matter how big the challenge is, he always shoulders it; He does not complain, and never flinches,” Tsai said.
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