Chinese leader facing ‘Chernobyl moment’

 

Chinese President Xi Jinping has made his first public appearance in almost two weeks as the nation grapples with the deadly coronavirus, with analysts saying this could lead to his own "Chernobyl moment".

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Wearing a blue face mask and white surgical gown, Mr Xi visited medical workers and patients affected by the deadly coronavirus outbreak at a hospital in Beijing on Monday.

He was photographed having his body temperature taken with an infra-red thermometer and later smiling as he waved to members of the public.

 

People clapped behind him as he wave during the appearance. Picture: AP/Xinhua/Pang Xinglei
People clapped behind him as he wave during the appearance. Picture: AP/Xinhua/Pang Xinglei

Mr Xi has largely kept out of the public eye since the outbreak was first reported at a seafood market in Wuhan, in China's Hubei province in December.

He instead appointed his number two leader, Premier Li Keqiang, to lead the official containment efforts, and it was him who visited frontline workers in Wuhan last month.

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But as the number of infected continues to rise - both in China and overseas - the government has been under pressure to prove the situation is under control.

However it has also faced an intense backlash following the death of Dr Li Wenliang who first blogged about the emergence of the new virus.

Following his death from the virus last week age 34, people have taken to social media demand an end to government censorship and hailing him a hero.

"If the virus can be contained in the coming weeks, then it is still possible Mr Xi could emerge relatively unscathed after blaming provincial officials for the crisis," Jamil Anderlini, the Financial Times' Asia Editor, wrote on Monday.

"Having shut down swathes of the economy to contain the outbreak, he may even be able to argue for greater surveillance and control of Chinese society.

"But if the virus cannot be contained quickly, this could turn out to be China's Chernobyl moment, when the lies and absurdities of autocracy are laid bare for all to see."

 

The head of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said he was confident in China’s ability to contain the virus. Picture: AP/Naohiko Hatta
The head of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said he was confident in China’s ability to contain the virus. Picture: AP/Naohiko Hatta

DEATH TOLL RISES

China's national death toll from the virus rose by 97 to 908 on Sunday, with another 3062 new cases reported. That was up 15 per cent from Saturday and broke a string of daily declines.

On Friday, the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said it was "good news" the number of reported cases had been declining.

But Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned not to read too much into the data, saying the numbers "could go up again".

More than 40500 people have now been infected with the virus globally, including 15 in Australia.

 

 

In the United Kingdom, the virus was declared a "serious and imminent threat" by the government on Monday after its number of cases doubled from four to eight amid fears of a "super spreader" who may have infected many with the disease.

The declaration means anyone with the virus can now be forcibly quarantined and sent into isolation if they are deemed to pose a public health threat.

The new patients who tested positive in Britain are all known contacts of a previously confirmed case - who is believed to have caught the virus at a work conference in Singapore.

He then travelled with five Britons, including a 9-year-old boy, to the French Alpine ski town of Contamines-Montjoie for a holiday

A medical centre in Brighton said Monday it had temporarily closed for "an urgent operational health and safety reason".

The BBC and Sky News said one of the centre's staff members had tested positive for the virus, although this was not officially confirmed.

Meanwhile, French medical authorities tested 45 children and their families from the area on Sunday and temporarily closed three schools.

 

 

 

 

- With wires