BEIJING • Wuhan should have taken measures sooner to contain a novel coronavirus that has spread quickly beyond China's borders in recent days, the most senior official from the city has said.
The impact of the virus on the rest of China and on the world "would have been less" if the containment measures had been implemented sooner, Mr Ma Guoqiang, the Communist Party chief of Wuhan, said in a nationally televised interview yesterday.
"The measures we took on Jan 23 to suspend flights, high-speed rail and ferries, and restrict cars could have yielded better results if we had taken them earlier, perhaps on Jan 12 and 13," said Mr Ma, who is also deputy party chief of Hubei province.
"I think if we had taken those measures earlier, perhaps the situation won't be as it is now," he added.
"Right now I am in a state of guilt, remorse and self-reproach," he told state broadcaster CCTV.
Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang said earlier yesterday that the task of containing and preventing the spread of the outbreak in Wuhan remains "severe and complex".
Supplies of masks and other medical resources are still inadequate, Wuhan Vice-Mayor Xu Honglan said. The two leaders were speaking at a televised news conference.
Wuhan city, with a population of about 11 million, is now in an unprecedented lockdown. The capital of central China's Hubei province is the epicentre of the virus outbreak that is believed to have originated in a market that sold wild animals.
The vast majority of the almost 10,000 cases identified have been in China, mostly in and around Wuhan. The Chinese health authorities confirmed over 9,600 cases across the country, and the virus has killed at least 213 people. No deaths have so far been reported outside China.
There are more than 130 confirmed cases in at least 23 countries and areas outside mainland China, including Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Russia and the United States.
China sent two planes to Malaysia and Thailand yesterday to bring stranded Hubei residents back to Wuhan.
The Xiamen Airlines flights picked up Hubei residents from Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia and the Thai capital Bangkok, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).
There were 117 Chinese nationals from Hubei province in Bangkok and 100 in Kota Kinabalu who were "willing to take the chartered flights back to Wuhan as soon as possible", the CAAC said.
The Chinese Embassy in Japan yesterday also asked Shanghai-based Spring Airlines to provide chartered flights to transport Hubei residents stranded in Japan back to Wuhan.
The first of such flights will depart Tokyo's Haneda Airport today, the embassy said in a statement on its website.
China's Foreign Affairs Ministry said earlier yesterday that the country would bring Wuhan residents back from abroad as soon as possible due to the "practical difficulties that Chinese citizens from Hubei, especially Wuhan, have faced overseas".
On Monday, Malaysia banned visitors from Wuhan and other areas in Hubei province.
The topic was trending online yesterday, with more than 67 million views and 21,000 discussion posts on China's Twitter-like platform Weibo.
"These people probably don't want to go back (to Wuhan)," said one.
Another questioned if residents should be brought back if they were not infected.
Hospitals have been overwhelmed in Wuhan, with some patients saying they queued up for two days to see a doctor.
China has advised its citizens to postpone trips abroad and cancelled overseas group tours, while several countries, including the US, have urged their citizens to avoid travel to China.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said China has taken "the most comprehensive and rigorous prevention and control measures" in response to the World Health Organisation's (WHO) decision to declare the virus outbreak as a global health emergency.
Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said China will continue to work with the WHO and other countries to maintain global and regional public health security.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS