A recent speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) published by state media indicates for the first time that he was leading the response to the COVID-19 outbreak from early on in the crisis.
The publication of the Feb. 3 speech was an apparent attempt to demonstrate that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership had acted decisively from the beginning, but also opens Xi up to criticism over why the public was not alerted sooner.
In the speech, Xi said he gave instructions on fighting the virus on Jan. 7 and ordered the shutdown that began on Jan. 23 of cities at the epicenter of the outbreak.
His remarks were published by state media late on Saturday.
“On Jan. 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 CCP Standing Committee.
The disclosure of his speech indicates top leaders knew about the outbreak’s potential severity weeks before such dangers were made known to the public.
Zhang Lifan (章立凡), a commentator in Beijing, said it is not clear why the speech was published now.
One message could be that local authorities should take responsibility for failing to take effective measures after Xi gave instructions early last month, he said.
Alternatively, it might mean that Xi, as the top leader, is willing to take responsibility because he was aware of the situation, Zhang said.
The number of new cases in China fell for a third straight day, the Chinese National Health Commission reported yesterday.
The 2,009 new cases in the previous 24-hour period brought the total to 68,500.
Commission spokesman Mi Feng (米鋒) said the percentage of severe cases has dropped to 7.2 percent of the total from a peak of 15.9 percent on Jan. 27.
The proportion is higher in Wuhan, the Hubei capital where the outbreak started, but has fallen to 21.6 percent from a peak of 32.4 percent on Jan. 28.
“The national efforts against the epidemic have shown results,” Mi said at the commission’s daily media briefing.
China also reported 142 more deaths, almost all in Hubei, raising the mainland China death toll to 1,665.
Another 9,419 people have recovered from COVID-19, Mi said.
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