GP Insights # 291, 14 March 2020
As his first visit since the outbreak, Xi Jinping visited Wuhan on 10 March 2020. This 'surprise' visit began at Huoshenshan hospital in Hubei Province, which is one of the makeshift medical facilities that is treating patients in severe and critical conditions. Xi was seen greeting the healthcare workers and meeting with health officials, along with waving to a coronavirus patient through video conferencing in the images that have been released from his visit.
In his statements from the visits, Xi Jinping spoke about the people of Wuhan as "demonstrating the strength and spirit of China," without whose efforts and sacrifice, the positive trend in the control of the epidemic would not have been achieved. He described the medical workers as the "most admirable people in the new era." He called them "messengers of light and hope," insisting that the country's response to the virus was a test for China's capacity and systems of governance with lessons to learn. His visit to Wuhan came at a time when the number of infections is skyrocketing across the world, but the reported cases of infection show a steady decline in China.
What is the background?
Wuhan is known to be the epicentre of the COVID19 virus. For over two months, the entire city was placed under quarantine, and the Chinese government took aggressive measures to try and contain the spread of the virus while looking for measures to find a solution to the infected people. After weeks of a near-total shutdown of China's economy and transportation, several provinces in China have downgraded their emergency levels. Many of the makeshift hospitals in the city of Wuhan have been closed down after sending back the recovered patients. On the day of the visit of Xi Jinping, only 19 new cases of infections were reported.
The initial weeks saw a lot of cover-ups, misinformation, and underreported figures. The restrictions were forced upon the citizens, movements were stopped, and many people who left their cities during the Chinese New Year, have yet to return back to their places. The initial efforts by whistle-blowers, the death of these doctors and the replacement of the leadership at Hubei have been some of the setbacks in the country. This effort by Xi Jinping could be an effort to boost the morale of the workers and people who have been affected by the government measures in the past months, where the decline in the numbers can be seen as a step towards victory.
By 8 March 2020, Baidu Migration Index reported about 65 per cent of people have begun to return to work and their cities. China has stated that it will be able to become fully functional by June 2020.
What does it mean?
The visit can be seen as a symbolic landmark indicating that the threat levels in China have fallen, making his visit a successful PR exercise. Second, the positive signs in China can be seen as a start to the decline in the intensity of the virus outbreak.
Finally, multiple related issues remain with the fatigue of the workers, the buildings collapsing and post-trauma healing along with economic recovery and reduction in the cases globally.