File image of Chinese President Xi Jinping | Photo: Andrey Rudakov | Bloomberg
File image of Chinese President Xi Jinping | Photo: Andrey Rudakov | Bloomberg
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Hong Kong/Beijing: Chinese President Xi Jinping called on all officials to quickly work together to contain a deadly new virus at a rare meeting of top leaders, saying the outcome would directly impact social stability in the country.

The effort to contain the virus directly affects people’s health, China’s economic and social stability, and the country’s process of opening up, he told a meeting of the Communist Party’s powerful Politburo Standing Committee on Monday. Leaders also urged officials “to achieve the targets of economic and social development this year” and “promote stable consumer spending.”

It was the second meeting of China’s senior-most leaders to handle the crisis in recent days, a rare occurrence over the past few decades. The virus has already claimed more than 400 lives in China and sent its equity markets plunging.

“The outbreak is a major test of China’s system and capacity for governance, and we must sum up the experience and draw a lesson from it,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing a statement from the meeting.

Xi said the country’s top leaders should be squarely focused on prevention and controlling the spread of the virus. Officials should abandon “formalities for formalities’ sake,” he said, adding that those who disobeyed the plans of the central government would be punished.

The meeting resolved to improve China’s emergency response system, improve weaknesses in public health and crack down on illegal wildlife markets. It also called for improving the production capacity of essential supplies.

Rare meeting

Xi had been out of public view for nearly a week as his government battles the deadly epidemic amid concerns over its abilities to contain the virus. He made his last public appearance on Jan. 28 when meeting in Beijing with Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, which has declared the coronavirus a “public health emergency of international concern.”

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Such meetings of China’s top leaders are rare. There were only 20 reported meetings of the committee between 1992 and 2013, half of them urgent and focused on natural disasters or public health emergencies. Since Xi took power they have generally been held once a year, except for special meetings such as those on a deadly 2014 earthquake in Yunnan province and a 2018 gathering to discuss the development of the Xiongan “smart” city.

In recent weeks Xi has overseen extreme containment measures, including quarantining more than 50 million people — roughly equivalent to the population of Spain — and rapidly building two new hospitals. The moves have come as the virus’s spread fuels concerns at home and abroad about his efforts to centralize power since taking office, with local officials and Beijing pointing fingers over who’s to blame for the spread of the illness. -Bloomberg

Also read: Why Wuhan coronavirus crisis isn’t China’s Chernobyl


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