Wuhan virus: China sacks senior city health official unable to answer basic questions

A man wearing a protective mask, goggles and gloves shopping at a Beijing supermarket on Jan 30, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS) - Chinese authorities on Thursday (Jan 30) sacked the health chief of a city near the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak who sparked widespread public anger after being unable to answer basic questions on state television.

Ms Tang Zhihong, who ran the health department in Huanggang city, which has reported almost 500 confirmed cases and 12 deaths, appeared on state television earlier on Thursday.

But on being questioned by a central government inspection team and a reporter on issues like how many people a certain hospital under her remit could handle, she could not immediately answer.

"I don't know, I'm unclear," she said, when asked how many sick people there were.

"I only know how many beds there are. Don't ask me how many people are being treated."

A few hours later, in a terse and brief statement, the city's health department said Ms Tang had been removed.

It gave no other details.

It was not possible to reach her for comment.

The original story featuring Ms Tang generated more than half a million comments on the Weibo account of state television's news channel within a few hours of it being posted, most of them in a very angry tone.

The government has said it will investigate and punish officials involved in fighting the virus who slack off on the job.

The number of cases in Huanggang is second only to that of nearby Wuhan, where the virus was first reported in December.

Huanggang has also been largely shut off from the outside world by the government as it seeks to control the virus' spread.

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