China released a two-week-old speech showing President Xi Jinping was leading the national effort to contain the coronavirus, in an apparent effort to quell public anger over the handling of the outbreak.
Xi told China’s most powerful leaders on Feb. 3 that he had “continuously given verbal and written instructions” since early January, and had personally ordered the quarantine of about 60 million people in Hubei province later that month. The full speech appeared on the website of the Qiushi Journal, the Communist Party’s top publication, on Saturday.
“From the first day of Chinese New Year to the present, prevention and control of the epidemic situation was the issue I have been most concerned with,” Xi said. “I have been keeping track of the spread of the epidemic situation and the progress of the prevention and control work, and continuously given verbal and written instructions.”
The epidemic has claimed more than 1,600 lives in China, with over 68,000 confirmed infections. There has been an outpouring of anger by the Chinese public after the death of a 34-year-old doctor who became a hero for speaking out about the deadly coronavirus, sparking a rare crisis of confidence in the Communist Party.
Xi has become China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong in his eight years running the country, engineering constitutional changes to make himself the “core” of the Communist Party and scrapping presidential term limits. The coronavirus scare is showing all the risks involved with that strategy, with analysts warning that if the epidemic gets worse and the economic pain is deeper than expected, he will bear the blame.
A lot of the backlash in China over the government’s handling of the crisis centers on its slow response in January.
The speech published Saturday outlined a time line of Xi’s virus-related instructions and directives, which began as early as Jan. 7, drawing skepticism of Chinese netizens who said reports from state-run media that day didn’t include any remarks by the president on the disease.
The speech also unveiled for the first time that Xi was behind the aggressive measure to quarantine millions in Hubei, the province at the epicenter of the outbreak.
“I explicitly demanded Hubei Province implement comprehensive and strict controls on the outflow of personnel on Jan. 22,” Xi said. He also spoke of a Jan. 7 order for authorities to control of the epidemic, and highlighted a Jan. 20 directive when he urged party committees and governments at all levels to take measures to curb the spread of the epidemic.
In late January, senior leaders of the Communist Party issued a notice calling for cadres to think of the big picture, stay united and “resolutely uphold General Secretary Xi Jinping’s core position” in the party.
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