President Xi Jinping meets with Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Wednesday. PANG XINGLEI / XINHUA
By CAO DESHENG
Prompt efforts urged as top leadership meets; officials warned not to shirk responsibilities
China has stepped up the fight against the novel coronavirus, as the country's top leadership has demanded all-around support to curb the spread of the contagious pneumonia that has claimed 490 lives on the Chinese mainland as of Tuesday.
As President Xi Jinping has involved himself in the leadership of the "people's war" against the epidemic, observers said the advantage of the country's system that enables it to gather all necessary resources to address major problems will ensure the nation can win the battle against the outbreak.
In a meeting with visiting Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen on Wednesday, Xi said the Chinese government has taken the most comprehensive and rigorous measures to prevent and control the outbreak.
Noting that China has undergone a lot of hardships, Xi said the Chinese people have the confidence and capability to win the battle against the epidemic.
Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, urged prompt and resolute efforts to combat the disease while presiding over a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee in Beijing on Monday.
It was the second such meeting in 10 days on the battle against the outbreak, with the number of cumulative confirmed cases on the Chinese mainland reaching 24,324 as of Tuesday. The Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions as well as Taiwan reported a total of 39 confirmed cases of the disease as of Tuesday. The virus has also spread to several other Asian nations and has reached Australia, the United States and Europe as well.
Xi stressed at the Monday meeting that epidemic prevention and control efforts directly matter to people's lives and health, overall socioeconomic stability and the country's opening-up drive, and he urged officials to earnestly implement relevant measures and policies targeted at epidemic control.
He warned that officials who fail to honestly implement the decisions and policies made by the CPC Central Committee and shirk their responsibilities will be held accountable, and those who neglect their duty will be punished in accordance with Party discipline and the law.
Among dozens of officials who have been held accountable across the country due to dereliction of duty in the epidemic control work was Tang Zhihong, director of the Health Committee of Huanggang in Hubei province, who was removed from office on Jan 30 for being asleep at the switch.
Three officials from the Hubei branch of the Red Cross Society of China were also punished for improperly dealing with donations for the prevention and control of the outbreak.
The key Party meeting came after the World Health Organization declared on Jan 30 that the novel coronavirus outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the declaration aims to enhance international response to the infections instead of being a vote of no confidence in China.
Tedros praised the nation's efforts in the prevention and control of the contagion after visiting China last week. While meeting with Xi in Beijing during the visit, he said the high speed and massive scale of China's moves are rarely seen in the world, and it showed China's efficiency and the advantage of its system.
Xi's personal guidance and deployment in the fight against the virus show his great leadership capability, Tedros said, adding it is admirable that the Chinese government has shown its solid political resolve and taken timely and effective measures in dealing with the epidemic.
Under Xi's leadership, China has taken unprecedented rigorous measures to contain the outbreak, pooling national medical personnel and supplies to the hardest-hit regions.
A total of 1,400 medical personnel from the armed forces were tasked with treating patients beginning on Monday in the 1,000-bed Huoshenshan Hospital, which was newly built in just 10 days in Wuhan, the city in Hubei province that is the epicenter of the outbreak. An additional 2,000 medics from around the country will also pitch in.
Bernhard Bartsch, a China expert from the Bertelsmann Foundation in Germany, said China's system demonstrates high efficiency in a crisis, as it allows the country to take appropriate steps by pooling all necessary personnel and material resources and employing its well-functioning hierarchical system, according to the website of German newspaper Die Welt.
Addressing the meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee on Jan 25, which was the Chinese Lunar New Year and second day of the weeklong Spring Festival holiday, Xi asked the Party and government officials to put priority on people's safety and health and take the prevention and control of the contagious disease as the most urgent task.
The meeting decided to establish a central leading group, which is composed of key government departments officials and headed by Premier Li Keqiang, to guide the fight against the outbreak.
Two days after the meeting, Xi issued an instruction on the prevention and control of the novel coronavirus, and called on Party organizations and members to play a model role in the fight and to unite the people to win the battle against the virus.
Zhang Ying'ai, a community-level Party official from Beijing's Chaoyang district, said she was confident the nation, particularly people from Wuhan and Hubei province, will emerge from the crisis soon as measures adopted by the government to combat the virus take effect.
Zhong Nanshan, a leading expert tackling the virus, said on Sunday that the epidemic is still at its growing phase, but he added that "it won't lead to a massive nationwide pandemic, only regional ones if they occur".
Leaders and senior officials from various countries also praised the country's timely response to contain the contagion and the transparent manner it has shown in the process. In a recent message delivered to Xi, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that under Xi's leadership, China will curb the spread of the virus with rigorous measures and keep the losses at a minimal level.
During a telephone conversation with State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Saturday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the open, transparent and cooperative attitude and strong and effective measures of the Chinese government are admirable.
Analysts said the Monday meeting was crucial, as it laid out an overall plan for the country's epidemic control efforts at the next stage, and also underscored the need to improve the country's emergency management system and capacity for handling urgent, difficult, dangerous and important tasks.
"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," a statement released after the Monday meeting said, calling for efforts to strengthen the areas of weakness in public health and to crack down on illegal wildlife trade to address major public health risks at the root.
Yang Yu, a researcher at the China Center for Urban Development, said the epidemic is like a mirror reflecting weakness in the country's emergency management system. It once again calls for the need to further improve China's governance system and capacity, Yang said.