Xi ousts pair of of­fi­cials amid out­rage over virus re­sponse

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD MARYLAND - By Steven Lee My­ers

BEI­JING — Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping sum­mar­ily ousted two top Com­mu­nist Party of­fi­cials from the prov­ince at the cen­ter of the coro­n­avirus epi­demic Thurs­day, ex­act­ing po­lit­i­cal pun­ish­ment for the regional gov­ern­ment’s han­dling of a cri­sis that seemed far from un­der con­trol.

The reshuf­fling of the party lead­er­ship in the prov­ince, Hubei, and its cap­i­tal, Wuhan, re­flected an ef­fort by Xi to con­tain not only the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic da­m­age of the epi­demic but also any sim­mer­ing pub­lic anger among mil­lions of people locked down now for more than three weeks.

The Com­mu­nist Party re­placed both of­fi­cials with pro­tégés of Xi who have ex­ten­sive back­grounds in pub­lic se­cu­rity.

The moves, an­nounced in terse state­ments in state news me­dia, came as the num­ber of deaths and in­fec­tions sky­rock­eted by the high­est amounts in any day. The rise, in part, re­flected changes in the way in­fec­tions in Hubei are counted, but the lat­est fig­ures con­firmed warn­ings that the true scale of the epi­demic re­mains mud­dled.

The death toll from the virus, known of­fi­cially as COVID-19, reached 1,367 Thurs­day, up 254 from a day ear­lier, and the num­ber of con­firmed cases jumped to 59,804, up 15,152.

“The per­son­nel changes can be spun as Bei­jing fi­nally tak­ing de­ci­sive ac­tion and be­gin­ning the process of sheet­ing home re­spon­si­bil­ity for the cri­sis,” said Richard McGre­gor, a se­nior fel­low at the Lowy In­sti­tute in Syd­ney, us­ing a nau­ti­cal id­iom mean­ing to fix blame, “but they also reek a lit­tle of panic.”

Only the day be­fore, Xi presided over a third emergency ses­sion of the coun­try’s top po­lit­i­cal body, the Polit­buro Stand­ing Com­mit­tee, and de­clared that the gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts were be­gin­ning to have “pos­i­tive ef­fects.”

“All re­gions and de­part­ments per­formed their du­ties ac­tively and con­sci­en­tiously,” Xi said, once again re­fer­ring to the fight against the epi­demic as a “people’s war.”

Xi’s re­as­sur­ing re­marks made the dis­missals, like the rise in new cases and deaths, even more of a sur­prise.

In a sep­a­rate move that un­der­scored sim­i­lar con­cerns, the gov­ern­ment’s high­est body, the State Council, an­nounced that it had ap­pointed an­other Xi pro­tégé to take over the na­tional of­fice over­see­ing Hong Kong, which has been roiled by protests since last sum­mer and by the coro­n­avirus now.

At Wednesday’s meet­ing of the Polit­buro Stand­ing Com­mit­tee, Xi urged of­fi­cials to do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to im­prove the care of those sick­ened in Hubei. At the same time, he urged them to make sure that business re­turned to nor­mal and that the gov­ern­ment met its eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment goals for the year, ac­cord­ing to an of­fi­cial sum­mary of the meet­ing by Xin­hua, the staterun news agency.

Mean­while, U.S. of­fi­cials Thurs­day an­nounced the coun­try’s 15th con­firmed case of the new coro­n­avirus — an evac­uee from China who had been un­der quar­an­tine in Texas.

The pa­tient, who had been flown to Lack­land Air Force Base in San An­to­nio last week, was re­ported in sta­ble con­di­tion. The in­fect i on was con­firmed Wednesday night, mak­ing the per­son the first coro­n­avirus pa­tient in Texas.

CHINATOPIX

A doc­tor checks the con­di­tion of a pa­tient at Jiny­in­tan Hos­pi­tal in Wuhan, China.

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