PREZ XI JINPING GAVE CORONAVIRUS-FIGHTING INSTRUCTIONS MORE THAN A WEEK BEFORE FIRST PUBLIC COMMENTS

• In the speech, Mr Xi said he gave instructions on fighting the virus on January 7 and ordered the shutdown, that began on January 23, of dozens of cities at the epicentre of the outbreak.

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

• Authorities in Hubei and Wuhan faced public fury over their initial handling of the epidemic. In apparent response, the Communist Party's top officials in Hubei and Wuhan were dismissed and replaced last week.


CHINESE PRESIDENT XI JINPING (LEFT)

Chinese President Xi Jinping's speech over the weekend has indicated he was aware of the coronavirus outbreak in early January, nearly two weeks before he spoke about it publicly, opening up criticism over why it was not addressed earlier.


"ON JANUARY 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," ME XI TOLD A MEETING OF THE PARTY'S STANDING COMMITTEE — ITS TOP BODY.

The publication of the February 3 speech was an apparent attempt to demonstrate that the Communist Party leadership had acted decisively from the beginning, but has also opened up questions over Mr Xi's leadership decisions, given his prior knowledge.


In the speech, Mr Xi said he gave instructions on fighting the virus on January 7 and ordered the shutdown, that began on January 23, of dozens of cities at the epicentre of the outbreak.


His remarks were published by state media late on Saturday (local time).


"On January 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," Me Xi told a meeting of the party's standing committee — its top body.


Zhang Lifan, a commentator in Beijing, said it was not clear why the speech was published now.


One message could be that local authorities should take responsibility for failing to take effective measures after Mr Xi gave instructions in early January.


Alternatively, it may mean that Mr Xi, as the top leader, was willing to take responsibility because he was aware of the situation, Mr Zhang said.


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


Authorities in Hubei and Wuhan faced public fury over their initial handling of the epidemic.


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


Mr 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 at least two weeks before such dangers were made known to the public.


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


Meanwhile, China's National Health Commission reported the number of new cases in mainland China fell for a third straight day.


Commission spokesman Mi Feng said the percentage of severe cases had dropped to 7.2 per cent of the total, from a peak of 15.9 per cent on January 27.


The 2,009 new cases in the previous 24-hour period brought the total to 68,500.


"The national efforts against the epidemic have shown results," Mr Mi said at the commission's daily media briefing.


'Changing by the minute'


The Hubei province announced on Sunday that all vehicle traffic would be banned across the province, expanding on an existing ban in Wuhan, in another step to try to stop the spread of the virus.


Exceptions will be made for vehicles involved in epidemic prevention and transporting daily necessities.