China Fires Highest-Level Officials Yet Over Coronavirus Outbreak

Beijing replaced two provincial health officials in charge of virus-racked Hubei province with a trusted official from national health agency

HONG KONG—Beijing fired the highest-ranking officials yet over the handling of the coronavirus outbreak, replacing two provincial health officials in charge of virus-racked Hubei province with a trusted official from China’s national health agency.

The director and Communist Party secretary of Hubei’s provincial health committee were removed, state broadcaster China Central Television reported Tuesday, making them the highest-level officials known to be punished for the government’s handling of the outbreak.

Both were succeeded by Wang Hesheng, deputy commissioner of the National Health Commission and a veteran health official who has been responsible for China’s health-care overhaul and medical administration, according to the commission’s website.

During a stint as the top health official in the large northern port city of Tianjin from 2008 to 2014, Mr. Wang was praised for strengthening the city’s health-care system.

He was appointed to Hubei’s Communist Party standing committee, the province’s top decision-making body, the Communist Party-backed Hubei Daily reported on Saturday.

The move came after Chinese health authorities said the number of infections from the coronavirus reached 42,638 people as of Monday night, China’s National Health Commission said. Most of the infections and the deaths—the number of fatalities surged above 1,000 on Monday—have been in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital.

Authorities Beijing dispatched to Wuhan summoned three other senior Wuhan officials on Sunday, after some patients with severe symptoms couldn’t get timely treatment in the city, the official Xinhua News Agency reported on Tuesday. Gao Yu, deputy secretary-general of the State Council, urged Wuhan officials to apologize to those patients individually, warning them that they would be held accountable if they didn’t take their responsibilities seriously.

Hospitals in the province are overwhelmed and short on supplies.

Sun Chunlan, a vice premier and a member of the Communist Party’s Politburo who oversees public-health policy, visited a quarantine center and two makeshift hospitals in Wuhan on Tuesday, urging the city and Hubei to work harder to fight the outbreak.

On Monday, President Xi Jinping paid his first public visit to the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak, stopping at a Beijing hospital treating infected patients and at a local disease-control office after weeks of remaining largely out of public view.

On Tuesday, the government encouraged people to get back to work after commerce was slow to resume even though some local governments had stopped telling people to stay away following a lengthened Lunar New Year holiday.

Officials with China’s top planning agency pointed to industries related to the national economy and medical needs. Production of protective face masks, of which there is a shortage, is at 76% of capacity, said Cong Liang, secretary-general of the National Development and Reform Commission at a briefing.

After the outbreak disrupted the Lunar New Year travel period in January, stranding some people away from their workplaces, 160 million people are expected to travel between Tuesday and Feb. 18, said Xu Yahua, a Transport Ministry official.

In Geneva, the World Health Organization opened a two-day gathering on Tuesday to discuss research on the coronavirus, the organization said. An advance team of WHO experts arrived in Beijing on Monday to help with the Chinese government’s efforts.

The novel virus now has an official name: Covid-19. The name, which stands for coronavirus disease, purposefully doesn’t refer to any geographic location, animal or group of people, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. WHO officials said the name could also serve as a template to label future coronaviruses.

More than 400 scientists and public-health experts gathered in Geneva and online to discuss gaps of knowledge about the virus and focus research efforts. The conference will include such topics as transmissibility, diagnostics and treatment.

The WHO also activated the United Nations Crisis Management Team on Tuesday, led by Mike Ryan, director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program. The team, which spans several U.N. agencies, is meant to provide expertise on the social and economic consequences of the outbreak, allowing the WHO to better focus on the health response.

wsj.com / balkantimes.press

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