World

Xi: Chinese govt will prevent major layoffs amid epidemic

It will do its best to meet economic targets and make adjustments to lessen impact of the virus, he says

BEIJING: Chinese President Xi Jinping said yesterday the government would prevent large-scale layoffs amid the coronavirus outbreak, Chinese state television reported, as he appeared among the public for the first time since the epidemic started.

He has largely kept out of the spotlight during the outbreak, while Premier Li Keqiang, who has visited Wuhan city where the epidemic started, has taken the lead in government efforts to end the crisis.

The death toll from the epidemic rose to more than 900 in China on Sunday as 97 more fatalities were recorded - the largest number in a single day since the outbreak was detected in Wuhan last December.

Mr Xi inspected efforts by community workers in Beijing to contain the virus, visited a local hospital that offers treatment to coronavirus patients and video-chatted with front-line medical staff in Wuhan.

Wearing a surgical mask, Mr Xi had his temperature checked by a community worker and waved to residents in their apartments, footage from state broadcaster CCTV showed.

The virus has forced Beijing to extend holidays in manufacturing centres and impose severe population controls in major cities, exacerbating a slowdown in the world's second biggest economy.

State TV reported Mr Xi as saying that China will strive to meet its economic and social targets for the year and make economic adjustments to minimise the impact of the virus.

BATTLE

China would win the battle against the outbreak, he said, and the government would take more decisive measures to curb its spread in Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei province.

Mr Xi has appeared at other high-level government events in recent weeks.

He met visiting Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen last week and World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in late January.

Meanwhile, people across China trickled back to work yesterday after an extended Chinese New Year holiday.

Few commuters were seen during the morning rush hour on one of Beijing's busiest subway lines.

All were wearing masks.

Mr Jin Yang, who works in a department of China's State Administration of Foreign Exchange, rode a bicycle to work instead of public transport.

Staff were told to wear masks, avoid face-to-face meetings and the canteen was closed.

Another employee Chen said the insurance company he worked for had barred people from taking public transport.

"I usually take the subway but this morning it cost me 200 yuan (S$40) one way by cab," he said.

Beijing government official Zhang Gewho said it would be harder to curb the spread of the virus as people returned to work.

"The capacity of communities and flow of people will greatly increase, and the difficulty of virus prevention and control will further rise," he said.

Hubei, the province of 60 million people that is the hardest hit by the outbreak, remains in virtual lockdown, with its train stations and airports shut and its roads sealed. - REUTERS

WORLD