BEIJING – Chinese leader Xi Jinping visited the coronavirus epicenter of Wuhan for the first time since the disease emerged, a trip intended to project confidence that his government has managed to stem its spread domestically.
Xi arrived Tuesday morning in the capital of hard-hit Hubei province, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Xi will meet with medical workers, military personnel, community workers, police officers, volunteers and others who have been fighting the epidemic, as well as patients and residents, Xinhua said.
Wuhan, where the disease first emerged in December, has been quarantined since Jan. 23, in what some people see as a heavy-handed approach following earlier failures to act quickly enough to stem the spread. Xi’s visit comes after a steady drop in infections, with just 19 new cases Tuesday — the lowest since Jan. 18.
A personal visit to Wuhan by the nation’s top leader has been anticipated as a potential sign that the Communist Party believed it had the situation under control. Xi’s government has seen a rare outpouring of public anger over both its initial response to the crisis and the muzzling of whistle-blowing medical professionals, shaking confidence in the ruling party.
The virus has killed more than 3,900 people and infected more than 113,000 worldwide, with almost 81,000 of them in China. Despite slowing down in the mainland, it’s beginning to spread more rapidly across the globe, including the U.S., Europe and the Middle East.
In an effort to mitigate domestic discontent, China’s state media apparatus has in recent weeks doubled down on efforts to praise Xi’s leadership of the crisis. Through glowing commentaries and by seizing on early containment missteps by the U.S. and other Western countries to which the virus has now spread, it has sought to validate its own hard-line approach, including locking down an area of some 60 million people.
Xi “is in command of the overall situation. He has shown great foresight and insight, and is ready to make a firm decision. This fully demonstrates the outstanding leadership and extraordinary wisdom of the commander-in-chief, shows the heroic courage of the helmsman despite of the difficulty and dangers, and reflects the love of people’s leader to his people,” state broadcaster China Central Television said over the weekend.
Still, many in China’s public remain skeptical after weeks of criticism that the government didn’t act early enough. Social media users refuse to back down in demanding answers on the fate of Li Wenliang, the 34-year-old Wuhan ophthalmologist who was reprimanded by authorities for attempting to raise the alarm about the disease before succumbing to it.
As the number of new cases drops in Wuhan, Chinese officials are relaxing some of the strict measures taken in the city and surrounding Hubei province.
“The trend of the epidemic in Wuhan has decreased,” said Chen Yixin, secretary general of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, who was parachuted into Wuhan to tackle the outbreak. The city has entered a “new stage of decisive battle,” he said on Saturday, according to a statement released by the commission on Monday.
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