Chinese president makes rare visit to virus patients, medics

Updated 11 Feb 2020

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Chinese President Xi Jinping inspects the novel coronavirus prevention and control work at Anhuali Community in Beijing, China, on February 10. — Xinhua via Reuters
Chinese President Xi Jinping inspects the novel coronavirus prevention and control work at Anhuali Community in Beijing, China, on February 10. — Xinhua via Reuters

BEIJING: Chinese President Xi Jinping donned a face mask and had his temperature checked on Monday while visiting medical workers and patients affected by the deadly coronavirus that has killed more than 900 people.

The Chinese president, who has called the virus a “demon”, made a rare visit to meet frontline medical staff at a hospital treating infected patients.

Calling the situation at the virus epicentre “still very grave”, Xi urged “more decisive measures” to contain the spread of the epidemic, said state broadcaster CCTV.

Xi has largely kept out of the public eye since the virus outbreak spiralled across the country from the epicentre in Hubei province to infect more than 40,000 people.

He appointed Premier Li Keqiang to lead a working group tackling the outbreak, and it was Li who visited ground zero in Wuhan last month.

On Monday Xi donned a blue mask and white surgical gown to meet doctors at Beijing Ditan hospital, observe the treatment of patients and speak via video link to doctors in Wuhan, state media said.

He then visited a residential community in central Beijing to “investigate and guide” efforts to contain the epidemic, said CCTV.

Video footage showed Xi having his temperature taken with an infrared thermometer, then speaking with community workers and waving at smiling residents leaning out of their apartment windows.

The outbreak has prompted unprecedented action by the Chinese government, including locking down entire cities in Hubei province as well as cutting transport links nationwide, closing tourist attractions and telling hundreds of millions of people to stay indoors.

The sweeping measures turned cities into ghost towns — but there were some signs of normality returning on Monday.

Roads in Beijing and Shanghai had significantly more traffic and the southern city of Guangzhou said it would start to resume normal public transport. However, for those at work, it was not an easy balance to strike.

“Of course we’re worried,” said a 25-year-old man surnamed Li in a Beijing beauty salon that reopened on Monday.

“When customers come in, we first take their temperature, then use disinfectant and ask them to wash their hands.” The Shanghai government suggested staggered work schedules, avoiding group meals and keeping at least one metre away from colleagues.

Many were encouraged to work from home and some employers simply delayed opening for another week.

State media reported that passenger numbers on the Beijing subway were down by about half on Monday compared to a normal work day.

Large shopping malls in the capital were deserted and many banks closed.

One bank employee in Shanghai was heading to work for a half-day, with other workers due to take over in the afternoon. The rest of the day he would work from home.

“It makes our work more difficult because we need to access the systems in our office,” he said. Schools and universities across the country remained shut.

The toll has overtaken global fatalities in the 2002-03 SARS epidemic when China drew international condemnation for covering up cases — though it has drawn praise from the WHO this time.

Chief of the UN health body, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said there had been some “concerning instances” of cases overseas in people with no travel history to China.

Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2020