China’s Xi Jinping Sounds Alarm Over Virus Outbreak at Party’s Doorstep

President Xi Jinping urged China to “spare no effort” to contain the coronavirus outbreak in Beijing, as he used a conference call with tens of thousands of officials to highlight the risk to the government.

Xi issued his warning in a conference call Sunday attended by more than 170,000 government and ruling party officials — the biggest of its kind — according to state media. It was the second time in three days that the president and Communist Party chief had highlighted the outbreak danger near the heart of the government.

“The security and stability of the capital city have a direct bearing on the overall work of the party and the country,” Xi said.

Xi’s remarks came as part of an extensive briefing on the government’s efforts to fight the outbreak, which he described as the most difficult such episode since the Communist Party came to power 70 years ago. He urged officials to work to the best of their ability to cut off sources of infection and prevent and control the epidemic.

The expression of concern about the Chinese capital illustrates Xi’s balancing act as he attempts to slow the expansion of a virus that has killed more than 2,500 without hurting the world’s second-largest economy too much. At the same that Beijing ramps up containment efforts, central and local government authorities are loosening work restrictions on factories across much of the nation and at least six Chinese provinces were moving to lower their virus alert levels.

The warning comes days after Beijing’s West District — home to central party and government compound Zhongnanhai — quarantined 69 people who had close contact with a local government official who tested positive for the virus. Beijing had reported 399 cases of the disease and four deaths as of Sunday, according to the World Health Organization, the 12th most among China’s more than 30 regions.

The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress is expected Monday to consider a proposal to postpone the start of parliamentary meetings planned to begin next week. On Friday, Xi told the party’s 25-member Politburo, which includes Beijing party chief Cai Qi, that municipal authorities in the capital must “do a good job” containing the virus.

The decision to publicly release so many details of Sunday’s teleconference conference is the latest move that appeared intended to demonstrate Xi’s leadership over outbreak-control efforts. Earlier this month, a party journal similarly broke with tradition torelease a speech Xi had delivered to the Politburo’s supreme Standing Committee.

In the conference call, Xi also urged officials to ensure “the effectiveness of publicity work,” a reference to state-run propaganda efforts. Government attempts to influence public sentiment over the crisis have backfired over the last few weeks as anger grows over the slow initial response to the epidemic.

— With assistance by Dandan Li

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