Xi Jinping visits Wuhan as Chinese coronavirus cases plummet

President makes first trip to city as Beijing says new infections at lowest level since January

Chinese President Xi Jinping gestures to a coronavirus patient and medical staff via a video link at the Huoshenshan hospital in Wuhan on Tuesday. Photograph: Xie Huanchi/Xinhua/AFP via Getty Images

Chinese President Xi Jinping gestures to a coronavirus patient and medical staff via a video link at the Huoshenshan hospital in Wuhan on Tuesday. Photograph: Xie Huanchi/Xinhua/AFP via Getty Images

 

China’s president Xi Jinping visited the city at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak for the first time on Tuesday, in the latest signal that Beijing believes it has finally brought the health crisis under control.

The president’s visit, which followed a rout in global markets on Monday, coincided with a dramatic fall in new coronavirus cases in China, according to official figures. The country reported just 19 cases on Tuesday, down from several hundred two weeks ago and the lowest official number since the start of nationwide reporting in January.

Authorities also announced they would lift some restrictions on movement within Hubei for the first time, with local government saying people in some areas would be allowed to travel within the province. Officials, however, did not lift rules that have barred people from leaving the area.

State television showed Mr Xi meeting frontline medical workers, military commanders, volunteers and residents in the city of about 11 million, which is still under a strict quarantine. The trip will allow the Communist Party to declare it is successfully fighting the disease, despite criticism of Beijing’s handling of a crisis that has killed more than 3,000 people and seen 80,000 infected in the country.

Experts have also questioned the reliability of official data. Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College, has said as few as one in 10 cases in the country has been detected.

Barrage of criticism

But some of the efforts have backfired. A call by the Communist Party boss of Wuhan to “educate” citizens to show gratitude to Mr Xi prompted social media users to unleash a barrage of criticism about the government’s response.

Video footage circulating online last week appeared to show Wuhan residents shouting from their flats at Sun Chunlan, the vice-premier, who was on a tour demonstrating the success of quarantine measures.

“It’s fake, it’s fake!” residents screamed from their balconies, as the entourage moved between buildings.

Mr Xi still faces substantial economic and financial challenges in the wake of the outbreak. The National Bureau of Statistics blamed surging food prices on disease control measures, led by traffic restrictions, and a delay in businesses reopening following the lunar new year holiday that increased production and transport costs.

About 69 per cent of migrant workers had returned to China’s big cities. Cities such as Beijing and Shanghai have continued to enforce self-quarantine measures for anyone arriving from outside. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020