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China's President Xi Jinping Visits Wuhan, Coronavirus Epicenter

NOEL KING, HOST:

China's leader Xi Jinping visited Wuhan this morning. That's the city where the new coronavirus started. NPR Beijing correspondent Emily Fang is on the line. Good morning, Emily.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: This is Xi's first visit since the virus outbreak started. What does it signify?

FENG: It signifies that Xi believes China has successfully contained the virus. And as one state tabloid described his visit, China is, quote, "ascending out of the darkest moment amid the outbreak." So it was a moment of celebration. Xi's first stop in the city was this new hospital built last month for critically ill patients. And we don't have that much about his visit yet, but pictures from China's state news agency showed Xi giving what looked like a really stern pep talk to these doctors outside the hospital. And then he video chatted with patients inside. And then he also went to a local neighborhood to see how quarantine policies were being implemented.

And the reason why his visit's so important is there had been really conflicting signals at the provincial level about whether businesses and factories can reopen during the outbreak. And that's been exacerbated - that's exacerbated the economic impact of this whole lockdown. So Xi is now saying from the very top, we shouldn't let down our guard, but we should also restart normal economic activity. And it's also a bit of a passive-aggressive dig at the rest of the world, which is now just starting to deal with outbreaks in other countries. China has repeatedly said its more centralized authoritarian model of governance is better equipped to deal with an outbreak. And that was implied again in today's visit.

KING: Is Xi saying the virus is contained in the medical sense? Like, do people in China no longer have to worry about getting the coronavirus? How - that's a remarkable thing to say, given how worried countries in the rest of the world are. Is everything all right in China?

FENG: Xi and other officials have reiterated that people should still be very careful about prevention efforts. But today is the third day that China has reported no new cases of the virus outside of this one province where the virus began. That's Hubei. So when I say contained, I mean it's been contained to this one province where it all began. The rate of infection's actually so low, even in that province, that state media reported today that all of these temporary quarantine facilities had been shut down because they're just not needed anymore. But Hubei is still under a complete lockdown, meaning that businesses are closed, that people can't leave their homes without express permission.

But then again, this week, officials also said they were planning on how to let some people in the province start to travel again - as long as you filled out these apps that monitor your movement throughout the country and then assign you a color to determine your risk of infection. That app was actually developed in another province. But they're rolling it out across the country now, so they can track people as they return to work.

KING: How do people feel about that?

FENG: People are critical about how the local government in Wuhan initially covered up the coronavirus and then let it spread to the point where they had to seal off an entire city. But the anger is more targeted towards local officials and the cover-up. Central officials have been able to commend themselves for their aggressiveness in containing the virus. And people are actually surprisingly pretty supportive of quarantine measures and these mandates to wear masks everywhere. Last week, I spent most of it talking to people from Wuhan who were really disappointed that China had basically sacrificed their entire city to save the country. But people also said this is one way to do it. It's come at a great cost, but it's been successful.

KING: OK. NPR Beijing correspondent Emily Feng. Emily, thanks so much for your reporting.

FENG: Thanks, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.