BEIJING • Chinese President Xi Jinping said yesterday that the ruling Communist Party must fix various problems, loopholes and weaknesses exposed during the current outbreak of the coronavirus, state television reported yesterday.
"To ensure people's life safety and health is a major task of our party's governance," Mr Xi was quoted as saying at a meeting of a committee on deepening reforms.
He also said Beijing would move to improve medical insurance and treatment systems for major diseases. The overall confirmed cases on the Chinese mainland had reached 63,851, with 1,380 deaths as of Feb 13.
China's leaders on Thursday expanded a mass round-up of people possibly infected by the coronavirus, widening the dragnet well beyond the epicentre of the outbreak to at least two more cities in what the government has called a "wartime" campaign to stamp out the epidemic.
But the campaign, first announced last week in the city of Wuhan, already has been marred by chaotic conditions that have isolated vulnerable patients without adequate care and, in some cases, left them alone to die.
The expansion of the decree to "round up everyone who should be rounded up" in the Wuhan area of central China has deepened the nation's sense of anxiety.
In their zeal to execute the edict, officials in Wuhan, a metropolis of 11 million, have haphazardly seized patients who have not yet tested positive for the virus, in some cases herding them on to buses with no protective measures, where they risked infection from others, their relatives said.
After that, patients have been sent to makeshift medical facilities that do not provide the support they need to recover.
With little to no dedicated medical staff on hand to help, some patients die. A sudden spike in new cases could make the situation worse.
As the number of coronavirus cases jumps dramatically in China, a top infectious disease scientist, Dr Ira Longini - an adviser to the World Health Organisation who tracked studies of the virus' transmissibility in China - warned that things could get far worse: Two-thirds of the world's population could catch it.
His estimate implies that there could eventually be billions more infections than the current official tally of more than 64,000.
Dr Longini's modelling is based on data showing that each infected person normally transmits the disease to two to three other people.
Even if there were a way to reduce transmission by half, that would still imply that roughly one-third of the world would become infected, Dr Longini said.
In a separate development, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam yesterday pledged handouts totalling HK$25 billion (S$4.48 billion) to the Hospital Authority and businesses grappling with the coronavirus outbreak that has piled further pressure on the Chinese-ruled city's battered economy.
Meanwhile, Taiwan yesterday accused China of dragging its feet over the evacuation of citizens stranded in Hubei province, where the epidemic is at its most intense and deadly. Nearly 1,000 Taiwanese have been waiting for the best part of two weeks for a flight out.
BLOOMBERG, NYTIMES, REUTERS, XINHUA, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE