China’s Premier Tours Virus Epicenter as Anger Bubbles at Crisis Response

Beijing extends the Lunar New Year holiday to delay infection risk posed by tens of millions of people returning to workplaces in cities

BEIJING—Chinese Premier Li Keqiang traveled to the epicenter of the country’s dangerous viral outbreak to meet infected patients and front-line health workers, signaling the Beijing leadership’s concern as public frustration rises over how local officials have handled the crisis.

The central government website published photos on Monday showing Mr. Li wearing a face mask and swaddled in blue protective gear as he toured medical facilities in Wuhan, a sprawling city in central China where the outbreak began. In one image, Mr. Li appeared to be speaking through a walkie-talkie to a patient on a video screen.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping usually reserves the top position on important issues for himself, but in this instance he appointed Mr. Li to head up the Communist Party’s virus-response task force.

The premier arrived in Wuhan on Monday to inspect and direct the government’s response to the outbreak, the government said. The virus has infected more than 2,700 people and killed at least 80, the vast majority in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital.

Video posted to central government social media showed Mr. Li visited the site where construction crews are building one of two new hospitals that authorities ordered up to house the infected. Asked by Mr. Li whether they had encountered any difficulties, construction workers can be heard yelling “no” in unison.

In an unusual move, the central government said Monday it was extending the annual Lunar New Year holiday, currently under way, by two days to Feb. 2 to delay the infection risk posed by the migration of tens of millions of mostly rural laborers back to their workplaces in the cities. The manufacturing hub of Suzhou went one step further, ordering people not to come back to work until Feb. 9.

Some of the country’s biggest tech companies followed suit. TikTok-owner Bytedance Inc. issued a notice urging employees in mainland China to work from home until a week beyond the extended holiday. Shenzhen-based games and social-media giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. sent out a note telling local staff to do the same.

The National Health Commission said on Monday that seven supervision teams would fan out to major cities and provinces to improve response to the crisis.

He Qinghua, an expert with the cabinet-level health commission, said at a press conference in Beijing on Monday that rural areas were a “weak link” in efforts to control the coronavirus, which is similar to the pathogen that caused the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in late 2002 and early 2003.

“Our rural population has no experience in combating SARS. SARS was mainly in cities,” Mr. He said. “Therefore, their awareness of epidemic prevention is still low.”

swj.com / balkantimes.press

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