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Xi’s early involvement in virus outbreak raises questions

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By PTI Updated: Feb 16, 2020 8:29 pm
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Beijing, Feb. 16 (PTI/AP): A recent speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping that has been published by state media indicates for the first time that he was leading the response to a new virus outbreak from early on in the crisis.

The publication of the Feb 3 speech was an apparent attempt to demonstrate that the Communist Party leadership 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 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,” he told a meeting of the party’s standing committee, its top body.

Xi’s role was muted in the early days of the epidemic, which has grown into one of the biggest political challenges of his seven-year tenure.

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. It was not until late January that officials said the virus can spread between humans and public alarm began to rise.

Trust in the government’s approach to outbreaks remains fractured after the SARS epidemic of 2002 and 2003, which was covered up for months.

The outbreak began in December in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, which has the bulk of infections and deaths.

On Jan 23, Wuhan became the first city to impose an unprecedented halt on outbound transportation, since expanded to other cities with a combined population of more than 60 million.

Authorities in Hubei and Wuhan faced public fury over their initial handling of the epidemic. The anger reached a peak earlier this month following the death of Li Wenliang, a young doctor who was reprimanded by local police for trying to spread a warning about the virus. He ended up dying of the disease himself.

In apparent response, the Communist Party’s top officials in Hubei and Wuhan were dismissed and replaced last week.

Even as authorities have pledged transparency through the current outbreak, citizen journalists who challenged the official narrative with video reports from Wuhan have disappeared and are believed to be detained.

Death toll in coronavirus in China climbs to 1,665

The death toll from China’s coronavirus epidemic has climbed to 1,665 after 142 more people died, mostly in the worst-hit Hubei Province, and the confirmed cases jumped to 68,500, officials said on Sunday, as top WHO experts scramble to assist Beijing contain the virus spread.

China’sNational Health Commission confirmed 2,009 new cases across the country.

Hubei and its provincial capital Wuhan, where the virus first emerged in December, reported 1,843 of the new cases. The latest report brought the total confirmed cases in Hubei to 56,249 cases.

Of the new deaths, 139 were in Hubei, two in Sichuan, and one in Hunan, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

The number of new cases, however, appears to have started dropping and a top Chinese health official has said efforts to control the outbreak have reached the most crucial stage”.

The report said 9,419 infected patients had been discharged from hospital after recovery so far.

The coronavirus has posed a severe threat to the medical staff as more than 1,700 Chinese health officials have been infected by the virus while treating the patients and six of them have died.

Experts from the World Health Organisation are expected in Beijing on Sunday to join Chinese health authorities in containing the virus, which has spread to several other countries forcing them to temporarily stop tourist arrivals from China.

The health commission said a joint mission with WHO experts will pay field visits to China’s three provincial-level regions to learn the effectiveness of the epidemic control measures.

One task of the mission will be to come up with standard medicine to cure the disease, according to the health commission.

Several antiviral drugs are under clinical trials and Chinese researchers have narrowed down their focus to a few existing drugs, including Chloroquine Phosphate, Favipiravir and Remdesivir, said Zhang Xinmin, director of the China National Centre for Biotechnology Development.

Experts have asked people to frequently wash hands and face, and wear masks.

Authorities have begun quarantining large quantity of bank notes and coins in the affected areas and sanitising them with UV light before releasing them back into circulation to stop the virus from spreading.

Coronavirus could damage global growth in 2020 — IMF

The coronavirus epidemic could damage global economic growth this year, the IMF head said Sunday, but a sharp and rapid economic rebound could follow.

“There may be a cut that we are still hoping would be in the 0.1-0.2 percentage space,” the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, told the Global Women’s Forum in Dubai.

She said the full impact of the spreading disease that has already killed more than 1,600 people would depend on how quickly it was contained.

“I advise everybody not to jump to premature conclusions. There is still a great deal of uncertainty. We operate with scenarios, not yet with projections, ask me in 10 days,” Georgieva said.

In its January update to the World Economic Outlook, the IMF lowered global economic growth forecast in 2020 by a 0.1 percentage point to 3.3 per cent, following a 2.9 per cent growth the previous year, the lowest in a decade.

Georgieva said it was “too early” to assess the full impact of the epidemic but acknowledged that it had already affected sectors such as tourism and transportation.

“It is too early to say because we don’t yet quite know what is the nature of this virus. We don’t know how quickly China will be able to contain it. We don’t know whether it will spread to the rest of the world,” she said.

If the disease is “contained rapidly, there can be a sharp drop and a very rapid rebound”, in what is known as the V-shaped impact, she said.

Compared to the impact of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002, she said China’s economy then made up just 8.0 per cent of global economy. Now, that figure is 19 per cent.

She said the trade agreement between the United States and China, the world’s first and second economies, had reduced the disease’s impact on global economy.

But the world should be concerned “about sluggish growth” impacted by uncertainty, said the IMF chief.“We are now stuck with low productivity growth, low economic growth, low interest rates and low inflation,” she told the Dubai forum, also attended by US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and former British prime minister Theresa May.

6092
By PTI Updated: Feb 16, 2020 8:29:45 pm