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Report raises questions about virus timeline in China amid sackings

Chinese President Xi Jinping was aware of the coronavirus outbreak weeks before he publicly addressed the problem and urged decisive action to stop it, an internal speech published at the weekend in the Communist Party-run People's Daily shows.

Beijing, 16 February 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Chinese President Xi Jinping was aware of the coronavirus outbreak weeks before he publicly addressed the problem and urged decisive action to stop it, an internal speech published at the weekend in the Communist Party-run People’s Daily shows.

In the February 4 address, Xi said that he “issued demands for work to prevent and control the novel coronavirus“ epidemic on January 7 during a meeting of the top Communist Party leadership group, the Politburo Standing Committee.

Despite Xi’s command, officials in Hubei’s provincial capital, Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, were slow to act, notably holding a mass banquet for 40,000 families on January 18 in an attempt to set a Guinness World Record.

The decision to release details of the speech on Saturday comes after several local and provincial officials in Hubei have been dismissed for their mishandling of the crisis. It may signal further attempts to preserve the president’s reputation, but could also threaten to draw Xi into debate around failures to stop the spread of the disease early.

More than half a dozen political officials in Hubei were dismissed for failing to control the outbreak, according to a notice published on Sunday by the Communist Party’s discipline and inspection committee in the province.

Although relatively minor officials, their dismissal signals that China’s leadership is attempting to meet public anger about mishandling of the crisis and distance themselves from the poor performance of local bureaucrats.

More than 2,000 new infections were confirmed in the previous 24 hours, the National Health Commission said. Deaths from the Covid-19 disease now stand at 1,665, after 142 new deaths were recorded, 139 of them in Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak.

The rate of people diagnosed with the Sars-CoV-2 virus dropped slightly in Hubei, although the death toll there remained as high as hight as in previous days.

During the last 24-hour period, 1,843 new cases of the respiratory illness caused by the virus were reported, Hubei’s health commission said, down from 2,420 the previous day.

Most of the deaths and infections occurred in the city of Wuhan, where the virus was first detected in December.

Outside of mainland China, four people have died of Covid-19 so far. France on Saturday reported the first death in Europe, a Chinese tourist from Hubei.

In Japan, health authorities on Sunday reported 70 new coronavirus cases on a cruise ship quarantined at Yokohama port. In total, 355 passengers and crew on the Diamond Princess are infected, broadcaster NHK quoted Health Minister Katsunobu Kato as saying.

Of the new cases, 38 individuals are not showing any symptoms. All the infected have been taken to local hospitals. Health officials have so far tested more than 1,200 of the 3,400 passengers and crew who were initially on board.

Citing Japanese officials, the German embassy in Tokyo says that all tests are expected to be completed by Monday, with all results available by Wednesday. Virus-free passengers will then be allowed to leave the ship following a final check. Those who were in close contact with people who have been infected will have to remain in quarantine though.

Cambodian authorities, meanwhile, requested that Malaysia double-check the test result of a US cruise passenger who they said was infected with the coronavirus, local media reported.

After being allowed to disembark from the cruise ship in Cambodia, the woman flew to Malaysia, where the infection was detected.

The cruise line said it was waiting for secondary testing to confirm the woman’s positive result.

It means nearly 1,000 people remaining aboard a cruise ship docked in Cambodia have to undergo additional coronavirus checks before being allowed to disembark an official said on Sunday.

“No one [is] leaving from the ship for this morning,” Kheang Phearum, a provincial government spokesman, told dpa. “The temperature checks must be done again before leaving.”

Holland America said 236 guests and 747 crew remained on board, after more than 1,200 people disembarked on Friday and Saturday.

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