Coronavirus is China's 'biggest health emergency': President Xi Jinping

AFP Beijing, China Feb 23, 2020, 06.40 PM(IST)

File photo: China's President Xi Jinping. Photograph:( Reuters )

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It is necessary to learn from 'obvious shortcomings exposed' during China's response, Xi added at an official meeting to coordinate the virus fight. 

The coronavirus epidemic that has killed over 2,400 people is communist China's "largest public health emergency" since its founding in 1949, President Xi Jinping said Sunday.

It is necessary to learn from "obvious shortcomings exposed" during China's response, Xi added at an official meeting to coordinate the virus fight -- a rare acknowledgement by a Chinese leader.

The new coronavirus has drawn comparisons to the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak of 2002-2003 which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong and led to criticism over authorities' cover-up.

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While China has been praised by the World Health Organization for its handling of the epidemic this time, the death of whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang, who was reprimanded for warning about the virus, sparked calls for political reform and freedom of speech in the country.

In comments reported by state broadcaster CCTV on Sunday, Xi said the epidemic "has the fastest transmission, widest range of infection and has been the most difficult to prevent and control".

"This is a crisis for us and it is a big test," he said.

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Xi's comments come as the number of virus infections hit almost 77,000 in mainland China -- with countries such as South Korea on high alert and Italy taking containment measures as well.

Xi acknowledged that the epidemic will "inevitably have a large impact on the economy and society", but he stressed the effects will be "short-term" and controllable.

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China has seen a slow return to work since an extended Spring Festival break, as officials urged the public to avoid gatherings and stay at home.

Those living in "low-risk areas" should return to regular life as soon as possible, Xi said, calling for new fiscal measures to help smaller businesses that have been hit hard by the outbreak.