TAIPEI (Reuters) - Italy’s de facto embassy in Taiwan said on Wednesday that it has “noted” the island’s request for a speedy resumption of air ties, after the Italian government stopped direct flights having included Taiwan as part of China in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Taiwan was angered last week when Italy suddenly suspended flights by Taiwan’s flag carrier China Airlines between Taipei and Rome, and has sought for the ban to be lifted.
Italy has stopped all flights between the country and China, as well as the Chinese cities of Hong Kong and Macau and Chinese-claimed Taiwan to stop the spread of the virus.
Taiwan has only reported 11 cases, compared to more than 24,000 in China, but as the World Health Organization considers self-ruled Taiwan part of China, it has included it in its advice that China is “very high risk”.
Taiwan’s government has complained that the Italians erroneously included the island due to the World Health Organization’s designation of the island as part of China.
Making the first official response, the Italian Economic, Trade and Cultural Promotion Office in Taipei wrote on its Facebook page that the suspension of flights did not mean Taiwanese citizens would not longer be able to visit Italy.
“While the inconvenience for the above mentioned extraordinary measure is regretted, this Office would like to acknowledge the messages that have been addressed here over the past few days,” it wrote.
The mission would like to “assure that the request for a speedy resumption of full and regular air connections between Taiwan and Italy has been noted and also brought to the attention of the competent Italian government authorities”.
Italy, like most countries, has no official ties with Taiwan and only recognises the government in Beijing not Taipei.
Over the weekend Vietnam had also suspended all flights from Taiwan, but Taiwan’s government managed to get that ban overturned within a few hours.
Taiwan has complained repeatedly that the WHO is playing politics with the island over the virus outbreak, listing incorrect information and refusing to allow Taiwanese experts into virus-related meetings.
The WHO says Taiwan is being given all the access and help it needs, but has not directly addressed Taiwan’s complaints about including its virus numbers under China’s.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore