Xi Jinping hails China’s ‘decisive action’ to contain pandemic at Covid-19 hero ceremony

Top respiratory diseases expert Zhong Nanshan receives Medal of the Republic; 44 recognised posthumously for their efforts during crisis
President uses event to hail China’s success in Covid-19 fight and economic recovery while virus still rages in other parts of the world
(From left) Major General Chen Wei, Zhang Boli, President Xi Jinping, Zhong Nanshan and Zhang Dingyu during the ceremony in Beijing on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

(From left) Major General Chen Wei, Zhang Boli, President Xi Jinping, Zhong Nanshan and Zhang Dingyu during the ceremony in Beijing on Tuesday. Photo: AFPChinese President Xi Jinping used an awards ceremony on Tuesday recognising heroes of the coronavirus pandemic to declare that China had “acted decisively” in containing the outbreak within its borders in “an extraordinary time”.

At the event where top national honours were presented to people credited with leading the country’s battle to contain the outbreak, Xi said: “We quickly achieved initial success in the people’s war against the coronavirus. We are leading the world in economic recovery and in the fight against Covid-19.”

Experts who helped China fight Covid-19 receive top honours from President Xi Jinping
Experts who helped China fight Covid-19 receive top honours from President Xi Jinping

Top respiratory diseases expert Zhong Nanshan received the Medal of the Republic, the highest state honour. Major General Chen Wei, who is leading the work on one of the Chinese vaccine candidates, traditional Chinese medicine expert Zhang Boli and Zhang Dingyu, former dean of Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital, were designated as “the People’s Heroes” at the ceremony.

Xi, who is also the general secretary of the Communist Party, also stressed that China’s success was only achieved under the party’s leadership. He did not mention the United States by name but alluded to accusations that the US president has mishandled the crisis by saying that China acted quickly to contain the virus threat.

“The party central has taken full command of the situation and acted decisively, and [we] took unusual steps in dealing with an unusual crisis,” Xi told the audience. “The party central insisted that [we must] always give [protecting] people’s life top priority.

“China became the first major economy to resume growth since the pandemic began and is among the world’s leaders in both epidemic control and economic recovery,” he said. “We are doing what we can to assist the world in the face of enormous pressure on our own control and prevention.

“The young generation is not afraid of hardship and sacrifice, and has taken up its responsibilities, showing the hope of the Chinese nation,” Xi said, referring to the medical staff born in the 1990s and 2000s who helped fight the pandemic.All medical professionals were putting people’s lives first and foremost, respiratory diseases specialist Zhong said in a speech after receiving the Medal of the Republic.

The 83-year-old professor, who became a household name 17 years ago for daring to speak in the fight against Sars, has been the public face of China’s battle to control the coronavirus pandemic.

Zhong was appointed to lead the third national investigation into the early stages of the outbreak in Wuhan, at that time the epicentre of China’s outbreak. His announcement in January that the virus could spread between humans ratcheted up worries about the outbreak. Top experts had previously said the possibility of such transmission was limited.

The four major award recipients were among 1,500 people recognised at the awards ceremony for their contributions in fighting Covid-19, including 44 who were recognised posthumously.

Premier Li Keqiang was also present at the ceremony, which began with a moment of silence to pay tribute to the citizens and medical personnel who have died of the virus. Exemplary individuals and groups, as well as party members and groups, were also honoured.

In his hour-long speech, Xi reiterated that China would fulfil its “global responsibility” by acting “openly, transparently and responsibly” by sharing information with international bodies such as the World Health Organisation.

Xi acknowledged that there were “shortcomings” in China’s governance and called on cadres to “fix the weaknesses” to build a robust public health system for the country.Earlier this year, the government formally exonerated Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang, whose death from Covid-19 sparked national outrage after it emerged he and other doctors had been reprimanded by authorities for attempting to warn people about the disease.Li died on February 6 aged 33 and it was only after his death that Wuhan police apologised to his family and the government exonerated him. In February, Zhong described Li as a hero and said he was proud of him.

Although China continues to experience outbreaks of Covid-19, most are imported cases from abroad and life in the country has almost returned to normal.

At the time Xi was presenting the honours, the global death toll from the pandemic was more than 890,000, including 4,634 deaths in China. Covid-19 has ravaged the United States (which has had over 193,000 deaths), Brazil (127,000), Mexico (67,700) and Britain (41,500).

About 27.5 million people around the world have been infected by the virus and there is still no cure or vaccination on the market.

China has been accused by the United States and other countries of lacking transparency about the origins and severity of the early stages of the Wuhan outbreak and of covering up details that might have helped the rest of the world better combat the disease.Beijing has responded by pointing back at the Trump administration, saying it was politicising the pandemic to deflect responsibility for its own failings.

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