World

China reveals Xi’s early response to virus

By AAP Newswire

A recent speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping has been published by state media signalling that he was leading the response to a new virus outbreak from early on in the crisis.

The publication of the February 3 speech was an apparent attempt to demonstrate that the Communist Party leadership had acted decisively from the beginning, but also opens up the Chinese leader to criticism over why the public was not alerted sooner.

In the speech, Xi said he gave instructions on fighting the virus on January 7 and ordered the shutdown that began on January 23 of cities at the epicentre of the outbreak.

"On January 22, in light of the epidemic's rapid spread and the challenges of prevention and control, I made a clear request that Hubei province implement comprehensive and stringent controls over the outflow of people," Xi told a meeting of the party's standing committee, its top body.

The number of new cases in mainland China fell for a third straight day, China's National Health Commission reported on Sunday. The 2,009 new cases in the previous 24-hour period brought the total to 68,500.

Commission spokesman Mi Feng said the percentage of severe cases had dropped to 7.2 per cent of the total from a peak of 15.9 per cent on Jan. 27.

"The national efforts against the epidemic have shown results," Mi said at the commission's daily media briefing.

Xi's role was muted in the early days of the epidemic, which has grown into one of the biggest political challenges of his seven-year tenure.

The disclosure of his speech indicates top leaders knew about the outbreak's potential severity at least two weeks before such dangers were made known to the public. It was not until late January that officials said the virus can spread between humans and public alarm began to rise.

Trust in the government's approach to outbreaks remains fractured after the SARS epidemic of 2002 and 2003, which was covered up for months.

Authorities in Hubei and Wuhan faced public fury over their initial handling of the epidemic. In apparent response, the Communist Party's top officials in Hubei and Wuhan were dismissed and replaced last week.

In the latest measures, Hubei has announced that all vehicle traffic will be banned across the province, expanding on an existing ban in Wuhan.

Exceptions will be made for vehicles involved in epidemic prevention and transporting daily necessities.