Premier Li arrives in Wuhan to instruct epidemic control as death toll leaps to 80, over 2,000 infected

Premier Li Keqiang arrived on Monday in Wuhan, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak, to offer instructions on epidemic control and prevention. [Photo/]. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

WUHAN, Jan 27, 2020, China Daily, ST. Entrusted by President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang arrived on Monday in Wuhan, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak, to instruct on epidemic control and prevention, China Daily reported.

Li, who is the head of a leading group of the Communist Party of China Central Committee on coping with the novel coronavirus, a pneumonia-causing virus, will visit and express regards to patients and medical workers, according to the China Daily.

Coronavirus death toll climbed to 80 including one government official on Monday (Jan 27).

On Sunday, there were 769 new infections reported in mainland China, the National Health Commission said early Monday, bringing the total confirmed cases to 2,744, including 461 in serious conditions.

There were also 24 more deaths and 5,794 suspected cases across the country.

Mr Li, the most senior government official to visit Wuhan since the outbreak started, was there to inspect efforts to contain the pandemic and spoke with patients and medical staff, the Chinese government said in a statement.

Official images show Mr Li wearing a green face mask and a blue protective gown over a dark suit as he spoke to medical workers in similar garb.

He was visiting the Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan, where most patients infected with mysterious coronavirus had been warded.

“As you put in all your effort to heal (patients), you must protect yourselves too,” he told hospital staff, according to local official newspaper Changjiang Daily.

Wang Xianliang, director of Wuhan’s religious and ethnic affairs bureau, on Jan 26 became the first government official to die from the coronavirus infection, reported Chinese financial news outlet, Caixin. He was 62.

While a small number of cases have been reported in about a dozen other countries, including four in Singapore, there have been no fatalities.

Most of the patients infected were either from Hubei province, where Wuhan city is located, or had travelled to the area in recent weeks.

The State Council, China’s cabinet, said on Sunday that it would extend the Chinese New Year holidays by three days in a bid to curb the spread of the virus through reducing human movement.

Schools, including kindergartens, will also be delaying the start of term.

The week-long Chinese New Year holiday is usually a time for hundreds of millions to travel — either back home to see relatives or on vacations — but many cancelled their plans either due to virus-related travel restrictions, or for fear of contracting the disease.

Wuhan and several cities in Hubei province are under a virtual lockdown, with severe restrictions in place including the suspension of public transport services.

This further tightened on Monday when the city said it would be shutting down passport and visa services till Jan 30. But the city’s mayor said that before the lock down on Jan 23, 5 million people were able to leave the city for holidays and other reasons.

Some in Wuhan have volunteered their own vehicles to ferry patients to hospitals while others have volunteered to cook for hospital staff who have been shunned by food delivery services for fear of contracting the virus.

But some villages in Hebei province have taken things into their own hands but preventing outsiders from entering, even going as far as to build mud walls as barriers, showed images on the Twitter-like Weibo. The Straits Times has been unable to independently verify the pictures.

Images from Hubei province have shown overwhelmed hospitals and long lines for treatment with dwindling medical supplies. Smaller provincial hospitals had earlier put out a call for donations for medical equipment including masks, goggles and protective suits.

Supplies have gradually streamed in and the army also mobilised close to 1,000 medics to reinforce overwhelmed hospitals.

Chinese leaders have called for transparency in managing the crisis, after public trust was eroded by the cover-up of the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a coronavirus that originated in China and killed nearly 800 people globally in 2002 and 2003.

The newly identified coronavirus has created alarm because much about it remains unknown, such as how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads. It can cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases.

World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Saturday he was travelling to Beijing to meet officials and health experts dealing with the coronavirus.

While the WHO has stopped short of declaring it a global health emergency, many question whether China can contain the epidemic, which has already spread to four continents.

Hubei Governor Wang Xiaodong said at a news conference on Sunday he felt “agonised” and responsible for the outbreak, although his comments sparked anger on Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter.

“He thinks one sentence of apology will be enough to solve the problem? Let’s await the judgment of the people of the country,” one user posted.

Some of China’s biggest companies have been affected by the outbreak, with hotpot restaurant chain Haidilao International Holding shutting stores across China from Jan 26 to Jan 31.

Gaming giant Tencent advised staff to work from home until Feb 7, and e-commerce firm Alibaba removed sales of overpriced face masks from its online Taobao marketplace as prices surged.

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