EDITORIAL: New Taipei City balks at the truth

A father’s quest for the truth continues to capture public attention nearly two months after his son died of acute brainstem encephalitis after contracting COVID-19. The two-year-old, nicknamed En En (恩恩), was the first child in Taiwan to die of a COVID-19-related illness, and debate over his death continues to focus on whether he could still be alive if he had received faster emergency treatment.

En En tested positive on the morning of April 14. His condition rapidly worsened and he lost consciousness in the evening. His parents repeatedly called emergency services and an ambulance arrived 81 minutes after the first call. En En died six days after being admitted to hospital. Seeking to understand why it took so long for an ambulance to arrive, the father, surnamed Lin (林), on May 27 asked the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the New Taipei City government for audio recordings of his story and that of his wife. calls to the 1922 CDC’s COVID-19 hotline and firefighters, as well as calls between agencies prior to her son’s admission to the hospital.

Firefighters initially said they couldn’t provide the recordings for confidentiality reasons, but on June 6, they allowed Lin to listen to excerpts from them at their facility. During Lin’s visit, the department ordered staff to pretend to receive emergency calls, later saying they intended to simulate the busy atmosphere of the call center on April 14. On June 8, the department filed a libel suit against a former staffer who exposed his alleged act of deception.

A breakthrough in Lin’s search for truth came when a radio host last week posted an excerpt from an apparent call from firefighters to the hospital on April 14 on Friday, which said firefighters initially could not join the New Taipei City Department. of Health, although he needs his approval before sending a COVID-19 patient to the hospital.

Other audio recordings, including apparent calls from Lin’s wife to 119 and calls from firefighters to the health department, were released by Chinese-language media on Monday. The mother’s recording sparked a public outcry, as she is heard desperately seeking help for her child as agencies continue to push her back, citing the need for interagency appeals.

Many people have asked why the health department had to approve the dispatch of an ambulance and why he could not be reached that night.

New Taipei City departments have repeatedly said they must follow guidelines from the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), while the CECC said an ambulance could have been dispatched without prior approval, citing procedures standard published on June 1 last year which state the nearest ambulance with the appropriate equipment should be dispatched if a person with COVID-19 experiences difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness, or pain or tightness continuous chest.

The debate over En En’s death increasingly focuses on the individuals involved, while systemic issues and ways to prevent similar tragedies are overlooked.

After En En’s death, the CECC on April 20 relaxed hospital admission restrictions, allowing children with COVID-19 to be rushed to hospital by a family member. in case of emergency. Last month it opened an “emergency green channel” for young children in hospitals and published a list of warning signs for parents whose children need immediate medical attention.

Meanwhile, the New Taipei City government continues to insist that it followed CECC guidelines, withholds important information from Lin, and refuses to assess possible inter-agency communication issues, insisting that only a judicial inquiry would reveal the truth.

While En En’s parents haven’t taken any legal action, the city has – against a whistleblower – and is threatening further lawsuits against media outlets reporting information it appears to want to keep hidden.

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Lillian L. Pena