In a video teleconference to officials across the country, Chinese leader Xi Jinping emphasized the gravity of the outbreak, calling it the most “difficult to control” public health emergency since the Communist Party took power.
He also expressed concerns about the long-term impact on the economy, urging local authorities to create incentives for businesses to resume operations.
Though the Chinese regime asked businesses to reopen on Feb. 10, many firms are reluctant to risk the potential spread of the virus among staff.
Xi also called on all farmers to return to work, to ensure that the virus does not impact agricultural production.
Xi’s speech was broadcast to all local officials whose ranking was higher than county level— roughly 170,000 officials in total—on Feb. 23. The information was delivered directly from Xi to local officials in order to avoid “information being reduced and distorted when passed from senior level to junior level,” according to state-run media.
He called the current outbreak “grim and complex,” with the “quickest spread, widest reach, and most difficult to control and prevent” since the Party began ruling China in 1949.
He called on officials to control the outbreak in the ground zero of Wuhan city and the broader Hubei province, as well as to prevent the virus from spreading in Beijing.
“The safety and stability of the capital is directly related to the Party and country,” Xi said.
In recent days, hospitals in Beijing reported patients and medical staff contracting the virus within hospital premises, while an e-commerce company confirmed that one of its employees became infected after returning to work.
Xi also emphasized that local authorities should “maintain social stability”—usually a euphemism for containing any dissent against authorities—and report positive news about the virus response.
“The economy is a dynamic circulation system that cannot be stopped for a long time,” Xi said, explaining that enterprises resuming operations and people returning to normal life were important to the society’s stability.
Several economic indices indicate that China’s manufacturing, transportation, and real estate sectors have already taken a hit due to the virus.
Xi called on “low-risk areas” to “adjust disease-control measures” in order to “fully restore production.” Low-risk areas are the 1,396 counties in which there are no diagnosed cases, and counties in which there are currently few diagnosed cases.
To encourage companies to return to work, Xi asked local governments to issue subsidies, tax breaks, and other aid. Meanwhile, the central government will launch more policies to cut taxes and fees, and launch a new monetary policy to support firms, he said.
Xi said that local governments should encourage migrant workers to return to the city for work, and should transport them from their hometowns to the city. Migrant workers typically move to metropolises from small villages and towns in order to make higher wages.
He also requested that all farmers return to work “according to their situation,” even in Hubei province.
“[Local governments] must promptly solve outstanding problems that affect springtime plowing and production,” he said.
Return to Work
But in the past two weeks, there have been scores of reported cases wherein staff who return to work are later diagnosed with the virus, leading to factory shutdowns and mandatory quarantines.
On Feb. 15, the southern city of Shenzhen reported that an employee at the Huarun Wanjia supermarket was diagnosed with the virus on Feb. 14.
The employee was originally from Jiangxi province. She went back to her hometown for the Lunar New Year holidays on Jan. 25, and returned to work on Feb. 8. On Feb. 11, her mother-in-law who lived in her hometown was diagnosed with the virus. The employee then started to show symptoms.
After the employee was diagnosed positive for the virus, the supermarket was closed. Nine employees were identified as close contacts and were placed under quarantine at a quarantine center. The other employees were under self-quarantine at home.
Meanwhile, Chinese media reported cases of at least 14 firms with migrant workers who were diagnosed with the coronavirus after they returned to work. In all cases, the workers had contracted the virus while visiting their hometowns.