Feb 15, 2020 - World

NYT: Xi Jinping ordered action on coronavirus earlier than previously reported

In this image, Xi Jinping wears a face mask and has his temperature read via scanning his wrist
Xi Jinping vists a community health center in Beijing on Feb. 10. Photo: Ju Peng/Xinhua via Getty Images

Chinese President Xi Jinping said that he first gave orders to tackle the coronavirus crisis on Jan. 7 in a speech released by state media on Saturday, the New York Times reports. He did not disclose details of those orders in the speech.

Why it matters: The newly published address, which Xi gave on Feb. 3, confirms "for the first time that he was aware of the virus while officials at its epicenter were openly downplaying its dangers," per the Times.

Our thought bubble, via Axios' Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian: The decision to release this information indicates that one of Xi's priorities now is assuring the Chinese public that China's top leaders — not local officials — have long been firmly at the helm of the government's response.

  • Popular anger at local officials for early attempts to suppress knowledge of the coronavirus has surged nationally, and led to widespread distrust of government action to combat the epidemic.
  • By taking personal responsibility for the coronavirus response, even from its early days, Xi is risking further backlash if the epidemic worsens.

Catch up quick: The Chinese government "delayed a concerted public health offensive" for the coronavirus by silencing doctors for raising red flags in the first seven weeks after symptoms appeared in December, the Times previously reported.

  • Officials in Wuhan — the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak — were "giving open assurances that there was no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission" in early January, per the Times.
  • Li Wenliang, the doctor who sounded the alarm on the coronavirus outbreak, was mourned last week in vigils in Hong Kong and Wuhan that seemed to "shake loose pent-up anger and frustration" at the government's handling of the crisis, per the Times' Li Yuan.

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