President Xi Jinping on Sunday published a timeline of his actions to combat the coronavirus racing through China as the Communist Party worked to tamp down criticism of the government’s handling of the crisis.
The timeline, however, indicates Xi was aware of the outbreak’s severity two weeks before revealing the information publicly. The latest revelation comes as a U.S. health official said at least 40 Americans on a cruise ship in Japan are infected with the deadly new virus.
The timeline is part of a speech Xi gave to party leaders Feb. 3 that was published over the weekend in state media. Xi outlined the government response to the COVID-19 outbreak that he warned could jeopardize health as well as economic and social stability.
“I issued demands during a Politburo Standing Committee meeting on Jan. 7 for work to contain the outbreak,” Xi said in the speech. “On Jan. 20, I gave special instructions about the work to prevent and control the outbreak.”
Within days, Xi began ordering entire cities shut down to slow the outbreak. Several cities and about 60 million people remained essentially under quarantine Sunday, and some of those lockdowns were tightened. The government of Hubei Province, the epicenter of the outbreak, locked down all residential communities in urban and rural areas, closed non-essential public places and banned public gatherings and the use of private vehicles.
Xi and the Hubei leadership have come under intense scrutiny in China. Last week, top provincial leaders were ousted for failing to take aggressive actions Xi called for in January. More local officials were disciplined Sunday.
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The crisis deepened for Xi last week following the death of ophthalmologist Li Wenliang in Wuhan, the sprawling city of 11 million people that serves as the capital of Hubei Province.
Li had become a national hero for alerting fellow physicians Dec. 30 in an online post about the emergence of a SARS-like illness, warning them to wear protective clothing to avoid infection. Li was detained by local security police on charges of spreading rumors and forced to sign a document disavowing his statements.
Writing on the Chinese social media site Weibo, Zeng Guang, the chief epidemiologist for the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, called Li “immortal” and a “hero.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, has been a supporter of China’s efforts. International experts participating in a WHO-led joint mission arrived in Beijing on Sunday and were soon to meet with their Chinese counterparts, he said.
“China has bought the world time. We don’t know how much time,” he said. “We’re encouraged that outside China, we have not yet seen widespread community transmission.”
On Sunday, global death toll rose to 1,670 while the total confirmed cases closed in on 70,000. All but five of the deaths took place in mainland China, where more than 68,500 of the cases have been confirmed. Fifteen cases but no deaths have been reported in the U.S.
In Japan, some of the 380 Americans aboard a quarantined cruise ship were being flown to the U.S. but will face another two-week quarantine, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said.
“We continue to collaborate closely with Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control, the Government of Japan and Carnival Cruise Lines on all aspects of this dynamic situation,” the embassy said in a letter to passengers.
Almost 300 people aboard the Diamond Princess, docked at Yokohama, have tested positive for the virus. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CBS News that about 40 Americans are among those infected. Those showing symptoms won’t be allowed on the plane, he said.
“If people on the plane start to develop symptoms, they’ll be segregated within the plane,” Fauci said.
Contributing: The Associated Press