Chinese Communist Party dictator Xi Jinping on Monday toured residential areas of Beijing, where he lives, to take photos with government workers and medical professionals tasked with responding to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
Xi has largely remained outside of the public eye since Chinese officials revealed the outbreak in late January, about a month after locals in the epicenter of the outbreak, the city of Wuhan, reported they began hearing of an illness rapidly spreading. His tour of Beijing comes weeks after Premier Li Keqiang, his second-in-command, toured Wuhan itself.
Uncorroborated reports from Wuhan – and video allegedly being smuggled out of the locked-down city of 11 million people – suggest authorities there going to extreme measures to isolate individuals suspected of carrying the virus, including bolting down and welding doors. Multiple reports have also indicated that the government is deliberately underreporting cases by making it difficult for “unapproved” patients with coronavirus symptoms to be tested and confirmed as carriers.
As of Monday, the Chinese government and World Health Organization (WHO) have identified 40,627 cases of novel coronavirus worldwide. Another 910 have been confirmed to have died from coronavirus-related pneumonia and infection, only two of them outside of China. Most of the victims who died are considered higher-risk patients, seniors and individuals with preexisting conditions. At least one prominent case, however, was of a young, healthy man: Dr. Li Wenliang, a Wuhan medical professional who posted warnings about the virus online before Beijing had confirmed its existence, resulting in police apprehending him and forcing him to sign a humiliating apology for disturbing “public order.” Li, age 34, died last week after contracting the virus himself, raising questions about the conditions surrounding his death and the potential danger of the virus.
The novel coronavirus, publicly identified as never-before-seen on January 20, triggered fevers, coughs, body aches, and difficulty breathing in most patients. In some, the infection advances to potentially fatal pneumonia.
China’s state propaganda outlets posted multiple photos of Xi Jinping visiting Beijing neighborhoods, wearing a sanitary face mask and speaking to both health professionals and Communist Party members responsible for controlling mobility in communities. Chinese media also recorded Xi having his temperature taken, an attempt to show that he, too, was following health officials’ safeguards.
Xi made the tour “to learn about the epidemic prevention and control at the primary level and the supply of daily necessities,” according to the state-run Global Times newspaper:
Xi reportedly described the ongoing outbreak as “very serious” and warned locals to listen to the commands of Communist Party officials. Xinhua also paraphrased Xi as saying that “China can certainly score a full victory in the fight against the novel coronavirus pneumonia epidemic.”
“Xi said the whole party, the armed forces and the people of all ethnic groups in China stand together with the people of Hubei and Wuhan,” Xinhua reported.
“Wuhan is a heroic city and people of Hubei and Wuhan are heroic people who have never been crushed by any difficulty and danger in history. As long as our comrades work together, fight bravely and overcome difficulties, we certainly can score a full victory in the fight against the epidemic,” the propaganda outlet quoted Xi as saying.
Wuhan is the capital of Hubei province.
The outlet Quartz noted on Monday that Xi appearing on the streets of Beijing was the first time the public had seen him in five days, when he met with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen safely in the confines of Beijing’s public buildings. The only major coronavirus-related appeared Xi had made before Monday was a meeting with WHO Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last month, also an official state visit in Beijing. That meeting occurred three days after the Chinese government announced to the world it had identified and sequenced the genome of the new coronavirus.
While Xi remained safely in Beijing, Li Keqiang visited Wuhan in January, meeting with health professionals at the overcrowded Jinyintan hospital and applauding their efforts.
Chinese media accompanied Xi’s public appearance with demands that the world not institute travel bans to affected areas in China – despite medical researchers believing the coronavirus is highly contagious – and praise for the Communist Party for allegedly keeping the outbreak under control.
“By building makeshift hospitals in a surprisingly short period of time, quickly isolating the virus and sequencing its genome, and mobilizing various provinces to help Hubei province, China’s nationwide efforts in fighting the novel coronavirus epidemic show the country’s capability, strength and confidence in defeating the epidemic and its sense of responsibility to the world,” the People‘s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, asserted on Monday.
“China has mobilized the whole country to fight the epidemic, made comprehensive deployments, and implemented the strongest and strictest prevention and control measures, many of which have far exceeded the requirements of International Health Regulations,” the newspaper alleged. “In addition, the Chinese government has reported the epidemic situation to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the international community in an open, transparent, responsible, and timely manner, and shared data on the novel coronavirus with the world.”
The People‘s Daily did not address growing evidence that the outbreak has infected and killed a much larger number of people than the government has alleged, including reports based on interviews with funeral home directors in Wuhan who say they are cremating hundreds of bodies on a daily basis, a yield unsustainable if the official numbers were accurate.