by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Person Lin/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 2.0

THE NEW TAIPEI District Court rejected a claim for compensation by the father of a child referred to as “En En” in the media earlier this month. The decision can be appealed and En En’s father, surnamed Lin, has stated that he intends to gather more evidence before filing an appeal. En En’s father previously requested 1 NT each from the New Taipei Department of Health, Fire Department, and city government as symbolic compensation last September, but this was denied, leading Lin to file the lawsuit in November.

“En En” was the first child to die of COVID-19-related complications in Taiwan. Before En En’s death, no individual younger than 30 had died of COVID-19 in Taiwan. In particular, what provoked outrage was the 81-minute delay before ambulances responded to the call by En En’s parents. The death took place on April 19th of last year.

The ruling took place on the basis of the claim that there was insufficient evidence to show whether En En’s death could have been prevented if emergency services had responded faster. In part, the ruling cited the Control Yuan’s report on the death, which consulted four experts, none of which came to the conclusion that En En would have lived if emergency services had arrived faster.

Specifically, En En died from brain stem encephalitis, which was caused by septicemia that occurred due to the effects of COVID-19. En En had developed purple bruising when Lin tried to contact emergency services at the Zhonghe District Public Health Center, which is a sign of a severely deteriorating condition.

Nevertheless, Lin and his wife did not receive an answer when this took place. As a result, he subsequently contacted the New Taipei fire department, which told them to contact health authorities, and called 119 four times before an ambulance was dispatched. After Lin’s wife contacted the fire department at 5:59 PM, an ambulance was only dispatched at 7:06 PM, arriving at 7:20 PM, which arrived at the hospital at 7:27 PM. The fire department itself was reportedly unable to contact the New Taipei Department of Health until 6:25 PM.

Photo credit: Jimmy Yao/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 2.0

After the death, Lin requested that recordings and files of the phone call he placed be released. But the New Taipei government initially declined to release the recording and only intended to provide Lin with a written report and transcript of the incident.

Members of the public were outraged by that after a visit by Lin to the New Taipei fire department, a leak from a firefighter stated that the fire department was instructed to act busy during the visit, so as to save face for the department as to the slow response. Lin was then later told that he could listen to the recording, but that he could only do so within government offices.

However, some of the recordings of the incident later leaked to the media. According to Lin, once he listened to the recording, he found that there were no personnel on standby for ambulance dispatch services at the New Taipei Department of Health for 52 minutes. Moreover, the recording contains the sound of personnel laughing while reviewing En En’s medical information.

The New Taipei Health Department tried to pin some of the blame for the death on the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) that coordinates Taiwan’s response to COVID-19, stating that it was only following CECC policy. In this respect, the case was caught up in contention between the central and local governments during the pandemic, in which both sides tried to pin blame for missteps on each other.

Yet the public is unlikely to be persuaded by the ruling on the En En case, seeing as there were allegations of a cover-up by the New Taipei government. The case is likely to be seized upon by the pan-Green camp to attack the mayoral administration of Hou You-yi, the KMT’s candidate for president in 2024 elections. This would not be the first case in which Hou came under fire in connection to the health of children, with a recent case focused on the alleged drugging of children at a kindergarten, though kindergarten staff were later cleared of wrongdoing.

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