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Xi Jinping Dons Face Mask as Beijing Residents Are Told to Stay Home

2020-02-10 -- Authorities in the Chinese capital placed heavy restrictions on the movements of the city's 21 million residents on Monday, as President Xi Jinping appeared in public wearing a face mask.

Private vehicles from out of town were banned from Beijing following an order made late on Sunday from the city government's coronavirus epidemic task force.

Meanwhile, President Xi showed his face, albeit partially covered by a surgical mask, in a residential neighborhood on Monday afternoon, in an apparent signal that the country would at least partially return to work following weeks of enforced lockdowns affecting hundreds of millions of people.

Residential communities will be required to operate tight restrictions on who can come and go, in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus that had left 910 dead by Monday, the majority of them in worst-hit Hubei province.

Authorities around the world reported a total of 40,645 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus (nCoV-2019), with more than 40,000 reported in mainland China, according to data compiled by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

"The epidemic management restrictions will include closing all non-essential cultural and sports activity facilities, entertainment venues and other public places in the community," the Beijing Steering Group on Pneumonia Prevention and Control said in a directive issued on Sunday.

"Residents must wear masks in public places, minimize outings and activities and decline invitations to participate in any gatherings or group activities," it said.

Anyone returning from central China will be placed under compulsory quarantine for 14 days, either at home or in a medical facility, it said.

Close contacts of coronavirus patients will be placed under "centralized" isolation and medical observation, it said.

"Anyone returning to Beijing must report their health status to the community they live in and register their personal information," the order said.

Gated residential communities, which are extremely common in mainland China, are required to set up checkpoints, with deliveries made to a central location in the community. Residents must then arrange to collect the goods themselves.

Xi makes visit

Just a few hours after the directive was issued, Xi Jinping made an inspection visit to Anhuali community in Anzhen Street, in Beijing's Chaoyang district.

Official media published photos of Xi and everyone around him in surgical masks.

Beijing housing activist Ni Yulan criticized the new policy as a serious nuisance.

"All the distrits are now issuing passes to restrict who comes in and who leaves, and they won't let anyone in without a pass," Ni said.

"The local shops have been shut down, and the kids aren't allowed to go to school."

"People who need work to make money can't go out in a normal manner," she said. "We have no idea how long this will go on for."

Threat to Party's status

Independent constitutional scholar Zhang Lifan said it is politically crucial for the ruling Chinese Communist Party to get a grip on the coronavirus epidemic in the seat of the central government.

"If the epidemic starts to spread through the capital, it will definitely have a negative impact on the Communist Party's status as the ruling party," Zhang said.

He said the party's strategy hinges on ensuring that the truth about the extent of the epidemic in Wuhan isn't reported on.

"Once the epidemic started to get out of control, they started using blockades and cover-ups, which ultimately meant that the most vulnerable groups didn't get equal treatment [with other coronavirus patients]," Zhang said.

"The enforced sealing of people's front doors such as we have seen in Hangzhou is actually just a form of detention in disguise," he said.

"In Wuhan, we are seing a large concentration of unconfirmed or suspected cases, who are being managed in ways that resemble a concentration camp; these people will ultimately be sacrificed."

Zhang said Beijing is highly unlikely to go ahead with the annual meetings of its National People's Congress (NPC) and its advisory body in March, as scheduled.

"There's no way they can have the parliamentary sessions, certainly not at the time they were originally scheduled for," Zhang said. "If they had the entire political elite ... converge on Beijing for these sessions, it could spread the virus even further."

"China's leaders would have to appear at the parliamentary sessions, but they're afraid that they could die if they did," he said.

Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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