BEIJING. – Chinese President Xi Jinping donned a face mask and had his temperature checked Monday while visiting medical workers and patients affected by the deadly coronavirus that has killed more than 900 people.
The Chinese president, who has called the virus a “demon”, made a rare visit Monday to meet frontline medical staff at a hospital treating infected patients.
President Xi has largely kept out of the public eye since the virus outbreak spiralled across the country from the epicentre in Hubei province to infect more than 40,000 people.
He appointed Premier Li Keqiang to lead a working group tackling the outbreak, and it was Li who visited ground zero in Wuhan last month.
On Monday President Xi donned a blue mask and white surgical gown to meet doctors at Beijing Ditan hospital, observe the treatment of patients and speak via video link to doctors in Wuhan, state media said.
He then visited a residential community in central Beijing to “investigate and guide” efforts to contain the epidemic, state broadcaster CCTV said.
Video footage showed President Xi having his temperature taken with an infrared thermometer, then speaking with community workers and waving at smiling residents leaning out of their apartment windows.
The outbreak has prompted unprecedented action by the Chinese government, including locking down entire cities in Hubei province as well as cutting transport links nationwide, closing tourist attractions and telling hundreds of millions of people to stay indoors.
The sweeping measures turned cities into ghost towns — but there were some signs of normality returning on Monday.
Roads in Beijing and Shanghai had significantly more traffic and the southern city of Guangzhou said it would start to resume normal public transport.
However, for those at work, it was not an easy balance to strike.
“Of course we’re worried,” said a 25-year-old man surnamed Li in a Beijing beauty salon that reopened Monday.
“When customers come in, we first take their temperature, then use disinfectant and ask them to wash their hands.”
The Shanghai government suggested staggered work schedules, avoiding group meals and keeping at least one metre away from colleagues.
Many were encouraged to work from home and some employers simply delayed opening for another week.
State media reported that passenger numbers on the Beijing subway were down by about half on Monday compared to a normal work day.
Large shopping malls in the capital were deserted and many banks closed.
One bank employee in Shanghai was heading to work for a half-day, with other workers due to take over in the afternoon.
The rest of the day he would work from home.
“It makes our work more difficult because we need to access the systems in our office,” he told AFP.
Schools and universities across the country remained shut.
The toll has overtaken global fatalities in the 2002-03 SARS epidemic when China drew international condemnation for covering up cases — though it has drawn praise from the WHO this time.
Chief of the UN health body, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said there had been some “concerning instances” of cases overseas in people with no travel history to China.
“We may only be seeing the tip of the iceberg,” he tweeted, as a team of WHO experts departed for China.
Meanwhile in Hong Kong, thousands of people stranded aboard the World Dream cruise ship for five days were allowed to disembark Sunday after its 1,800 crew tested negative for the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, President Xi who is also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, on Monday said China can certainly score a full victory in the fight against the novel coronavirus pneumonia epidemic.
The situation at the moment remains very serious, said President Xi.
Speaking during an inspection of the epidemic prevention and control work in Beijing, President Xi said the whole party, the armed forces and the people of all ethnic groups in China stand together with the people of Hubei and Wuhan.
Hubei Province, of which Wuhan is the capital city, is at the centre of the outbreak.
President Xi pointed out that Hubei and Wuhan are the top priority for the epidemic prevention and control.
“Wuhan is a heroic city and people of Hubei and Wuhan are heroic people who have never been crushed by any difficulty and danger in history. As long as our comrades work together, fight bravely and overcome difficulties, we certainly can score a full victory in the fight against the epidemic,” President Xi said. – AFP/Xinhua