Xi visits hospital in Beijing and video chats with Wuhan doctors

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Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 teleconferences with frontline health workers. Source: Xinhua News Agency.

After weeks of a worsening coronavirus epidemic, which has now infected over 42,000 people and claimed over 1000 lives, almost all in China, the Chinese “People’s Leader” Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 finally went out among the people today. Central state media Xinhua reports (in English, in Chinese):

Wearing a mask, Xi, also Chinese president and chairman of the Central Military Commission, visited a residential community, a hospital and a district center for disease control and prevention in Beijing.

The New York Times provides more context (porous paywall):

It was Xi Jinping’s first public appearance since meeting the Cambodian prime minister last week, and one of only a handful since the epidemic exploded into a crisis last month. It showed him on what state media declared the “front line” of China’s efforts to combat the coronavirus epidemic — even if the actual center of the outbreak lies 600 miles south in the city of Wuhan…

Mr. Xi has yet to visit Wuhan. That task fell to Premier Lǐ Kèqiáng 李克强, the country’s No. 2 official, and Vice Premier Sūn Chūnlán 孙春兰, who has led the response there in recent days. But at the hospital and later at the disease control office in Chaoyang, Mr. Xi greeted workers and officials there via video links.

Struggles to restart a locked-down economy

Xi’s appearance coincided with the official first day back to work after an extended Lunar New Year holiday, but through the end of last week, as much as 80% of China’s economy remained in shutdown mode because of virus containment measures. Xi reportedly emphasized that “large-scale layoffs must be avoided,” according to the Financial Times (paywall).

Here are some indications of the economic shock that the coronavirus crisis is dealing to China:

  • “More than 300 Chinese companies are seeking bank loans totaling at least 57.4 billion yuan ($8.2 billion) to help to soften the impact of the coronavirus outbreak in China, two banking sources said,” per Reuters.
  • Foxconn, the iPhone manufacturer with factories in southern China, has not been allowed to restart its operations in many locations. TechNode summarizes the news.
  • Partial lockdowns in Beijing and Shanghai have been announced, according to the SCMP, even as Zhejiang Province next door to Shanghai has begun to relax some controls.

Meanwhile, in Wuhan

At the ground zero of the coronavirus outbreak, Wuhan, citizens continue to fume over the death of doctor Lǐ Wénliàng 李文亮. Li was one of eight people in the city to be muzzled by authorities as they attempted to raise alarm about the epidemic in late December, before it developed into a crisis.

Report on web users’ emotional response to the death of Li Wenliang and relevant recommendations” is the title of a document from a Chinese internet company called Warming High-Tech that has been translated by China Digital Times. The report observes how internet users initially grieved, but soon took up grievances related to Li’s death, and gave seven recommendations to authorities on how to “alleviate the spread of negative emotions online.”

An open letter calling for freedom of speech to be respected, in accordance with articles 35 and 51 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, and for authorities to apologize to the Wuhan whistleblowers and recognize Li as a national martyr, was signed by 10 professors. Eight of them currently hold positions at Wuhan University — though if the experience of the outspoken Xǔ Zhāngrùn 许章润 at Tsinghua University is any indication, they can expect suspensions before long. The letter is viewable here (in Chinese).

“Two more Chinese doctors have said they were reprimanded by police for trying to warn others in the early days of the deadly coronavirus outbreak in the stricken central city of Wuhan,” Caixin reports.

“Despite the fanfare and record speed at which Wuhan’s two new makeshift hospitals were built, they appear to be operating far below capacity,” Caixin adds.

Huoshenshan Hospital, which began admitting patients on February 3 and touts accommodation for more than 1,000 patients, had only 286 beds in use and zero vacancies as of Saturday, according to data released Sunday by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission.

Leishenshan Hospital, which touted at least 1,500 beds, opened Saturday with just 30, according to the data.

“Overwhelmed and understaffed, hospitals have turned away many sick residents like the Zhangs, forcing them to go home and quarantine themselves in small apartments where they risk infecting other family members,” Amy Qin writes for the New York Times.

An American in Wuhan has died from the coronavirus, the New York Times reports. “According to the United States Embassy in Beijing, the person was 60 years old and died at Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan, the inland metropolis at the center of the epidemic. Two people familiar with the matter said the person was a woman and had underlying health conditions.”

Beijing has continually rejected outside help from the World Health Organization and the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the New York Times also reports. The Washington Post has a story on how the reluctance of China to accept foreign help “baffles some health crisis experts.”

—Lucas Niewenhuis