President Xi says to prevent large-scale layoffs amid coronavirus outbreak

Chinese President Xi jinping visited the Chaoyang district in Beijing on Monday afternoon (Feb 10) "to learn about the situation of epidemic prevision and control at the grassroots level".
Chinese President Xi jinping visited the Chaoyang district in Beijing on Monday afternoon (Feb 10) "to learn about the situation of epidemic prevision and control at the grassroots level". PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Monday (Feb 10) the government would prevent large-scale layoffs amid the coronavirus outbreak, Chinese state television reported, as he appeared among the public for the first time since the epidemic started.

The Chinese leader has largely kept out of the spotlight during the outbreak, while Premier Li Keqiang, who has visited Wuhan city where the epidemic started, has taken the lead in government efforts to end the crisis.

Mr Xi inspected efforts by community workers in Beijing to contain the virus, visited a local hospital that offers treatment to coronavirus patients and video-chatted with frontline medical staff in Wuhan.

Wearing a surgical mask, he had his temperature checked by a community worker and waved to residents in their apartments, according to footage from state broadcaster CCTV.

The virus, which has killed more than 900 people, has forced Beijing to extend holidays in manufacturing centres and impose severe population controls in major cities, exacerbating a slowdown in the world’s second biggest economy.

State television reported Mr Xi as saying that China will strive to meet its economic and social targets for the year and make economic adjustments to minimise the impact of the virus.

China would win the battle against the outbreak, he said, and the government would take more decisive measures to curb its spread in Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei province.

Mr Xi has appeared at other high-level government events in recent weeks. He met visiting Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen last week and World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in late January.

He also chaired a rare meeting of the Communist Party's top leaders on Feb 3, though no photos or videos were published by state media.

 
 
 

At the gathering, Mr Xi called on all officials to quickly work together to contain a deadly new virus at a rare meeting of top leaders, saying the outcome would directly impact social stability in the country.

The death toll from the virus has risen to 910, with 40,626 cases detected across the globe. The government's struggle to stem its spread has fuelled concerns about Mr Xi's efforts to centralise power since taking office, with officials pointing fingers over who's to blame for the spread of the illness.

The death last week of the 34-year-old doctor, Dr Li Wenliang, who was sanctioned by local authorities after warning about the disease, unleashed a torrent of grief and anger on social media.

Beijing has moved quickly to try to stem the outrage, employing familiar censorship tools and sending a team from the Communist Party's top disciplinary body to investigate his death.