China is sending the surest sign yet that it has the coronavirus under control: Chinese leader Xi Jinping finally visited Wuhan, the epicenter of the epidemic, for the first time since the crisis began in January.
Xi arrived in the city this morning to “inspect the prevention and control work of the the coronavirus,” according to state news agency Xinhua, and will visit medical workers, military commanders, community workers, police officers, grassroots officials, volunteers, and local residents. He also visited Huoshenshan, one of the hospitals that was rapidly constructed to tackle the outbreak.
Chinese health authorities first reported that there were pneumonia cases in Wuhan, Hubei province in December to the World Health Organization. By the latest count, the province has reported a total of at least 67,760 cases (link in Chinese) and 3,024 deaths. Xi’s visit comes as China has been reporting a steadily falling number of confirmed cases and deaths in the last two weeks. Only 19 new cases, of which 17 were in Wuhan, were reported yesterday.
Beijing has signaled confidence in its fight against the epidemic by allowing cities outside Hubei to resume work and production. The government is also projecting that confidence overseas through a propaganda campaign that attempts to re-frame China as the global leader in the fight against the epidemic, and dispelling the narrative that the Covid-19 outbreak began in China.
Bill Bishop, an analyst who writes the China-focused Sinocism newsletter, wrote earlier that the surest signs that the Communist Party “thinks victory really is at hand” are if Xi visits Wuhan, kids go back to school, and a new date is set for the delayed “Two Sessions” political meetings, originally slated to take place this month.
Prior to today’s visit, Xi had been under fire for his lack of public appearances as the epidemic raged. His deputy, Li Keqiang, visited frontline workers and residents in Wuhan in January, while vice premier Sun Chunlan has been leading the government’s response to the crisis in Hubei. Xi did not make his first public appearance until Feb. 10, when he visited a residential community in Beijing, though state media had been cultivating the image of the leader as a sort of behind-the-scenes commander of the country’s efforts against the outbreak.
With public anger over the government’s management of the epidemic still palpable, Xi’s visit is likely to be conducted in a tightly controlled fashion. Just five days ago, angry residents in a Wuhan residential complex chanted “it’s all fake!” from their windows during Sun’s inspection of the neighborhood.