China: Assessing the Wuhan Coronavirus

Published on January 27, 2020

On Saturday, the first day of China’s Year of the Rat, President Xi Jinping chaired a meeting in Zhongnanhai, Beijing, of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee to discuss ways to prevent and control the outbreak of the deadly Wuhan coronavirus pneumonia, or the “2019-nCoV.”

On Sunday, the second day of what would have been a new year celebration week, Premier Li Keqiang then presided over a smaller sub-group of the CPC Central Committee to discuss specific directives.

** State Council sources quote Xi as emphasizing the paramount importance of saving lives and affording affected patients with the best medical treatment possible. The fight against novel coronavirus, Xi said, is one China “must win.”

** With that in mind, Xi emphasized that it would be necessary to sacrifice short-term economic goals to win the battle over this epidemic. Party committees and governments at all levels were told to put epidemic prevention and control first, and economic development second, until the epidemic is effectively brought under control.

** At the meeting on Sunday, Premier Li then approved the release of 50 billion Yuan (approximately $7.2 billion) from the secretive, rainy day “Premier Fund” to subsidize medical care, equipment purchases, and towards other efforts to control the epidemic.

** As to the severity of the current outbreak, a high-level expert team of China’s National Health Commission (NHC) reported the following to President Xi and the Standing Committee of the Politburo on Saturday:

** The outbreak, in their assessment, is still in its early stages, and according to recent clinical information, the virus’ ability to spread seems, if anything, to be getting stronger.

** They believe the next twenty days will, in fact, see a more rapid spread of the virus, with the number of confirmed cases potentially rising to 5,000-6,000 over that time. As of 7:00 a.m., January 27, local time, the virus had reportedly infected 2,744 people in Mainland China and killed 80, across all provincial level regions, except for the “Tibet autonomous region.”

** The mortality rate for the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), they reported, will be lower than that of SARS, even though its virulence and pathogenicity has yet to be verified and confirmed. The incubation period for the virus can range from one to fourteen days, during which infection can occur, which was not the case with SARS.

** The intermediate host of the 2019-nCoV could be bats, minks, or snakes.

** As to particular measures, at the Sunday morning meeting, as has been widely reported, China’s leadership ordered the Spring Festival holiday, originally scheduled for between January 24 and 30, to be extended, and for a delay to the start of the spring semester for kindergartens, primary schools, middle schools, and universities.

** The government also announced extensive traffic and travel restrictions, but the central government has come down hard on local governments who decided unilaterally to declare a shut down without the authorization of Beijing. A case in point, from what we understand, was the decision by Shantou (ac coastal city in Guangdong province) to declare the city shut, eliciting the ire of Premier Li, who then demanded the order be reversed immediately.

** Finally, Beijing ordered a temporary ban nationwide on the sale of wildlife in markets, restaurants, and even on e-commerce platforms. The ban is effective immediately and will not be lifted until the epidemic is declared over.

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