China's Communist Party fired the chief of the Hubei province, which is the epicentre of the novel coronavirus epidemic. The terse announcement by the official news agency came on the day when Beijing revised the death toll sharply up and reviled a sudden spike in cases following a tweak in the diagnosis criteria.
Jiang Chaoliang, the party secretary of Hubei, has been replaced with Shanghai mayor Ying Yong. "Ying Yong has been appointed secretary of the Hubei Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), replacing Jiang Chaoliang, according to a decision by the CPC Central Committee," Xinhua said.
More than 7,000 in severe condition in Hubei
As on Thursday, the virus, officially named as COVID-19, has killed 1,355 people in China. Xinhua also revealed that among the 33,693 patients, 5,647 are still in severe condition. As many as 1,437 patients in the province are in critical condition, it added. Across China, the virus has infected nearly 60,000 people. The agency also said some 3,441 patients were discharged from hospital following recovery.
The Wuhan administration has faced the ire of locals and the national leaders like for the alleged lapses in the efforts to contain the virus. The public anger swelled last week following the death of a whistleblower doctor from the infection. The death of Li Wenliang led to massive outpouring of grief and anger on Chinese social media sites.
Death of whistleblower doctor
Li Wenliang courted controversy in early December when he let the world know that a mysterious virus was spreading in Wuhan. The warning message he posted in an online group of peers was soon rubbished as rumour-mongering and the Wuhan police targeted him. The 34-year-old ophthalmologist in Wuhan Central Hospital was taken ill in mid-January and was confirmed to have been infected with the coronavirus in early February.
Ill-advised potluck dinner helped spread the virus
Another major perceived lapse of the Wuhan party authorities was their decision to let a large public feast go ahead in January despite the fact that there were clear signs that an epidemic was gathering pace. The local government had controversially allowed nearly 40,000 families to gather and share food as part of the Chinese New Year festival even as deaths from the virus were increasing.
It later turned out that at least 10 cases of coronavirus infection were reported from among the participants of the feast on January 18, raising fears that the event must have accelerated the spread of the infection in Wuhan.
The local government delayed reporting
The mysterious virus infections in Wuhan was reported in early December after workers at the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market reported ill and taken to hospitals. The early diagnosis was for pneumonia but soon the cases grew more mysterious. China reported to the World health Organisation (WHO) about the mystery virus on December 31, full three weeks after the deadly virus started spreading among people.
Wuhan mayor later explained that the permission for the potluck dinner party was given on the assumption that the risk of human-to-human transmission of the virus was minimal. The mayor also claimed that he could not have acted faster on declaring the scale of the epidemic as he had to get the go-ahead from the central government.
China sacked two most senior health officials in Hubei province on Monday. Their sacking was followed by the removal of the Red Cross official in Wuhan on the grounds of dereliction of duty. There have been questions if Chinese authorities have been completely transparent about the scale of the infection and the number of deaths.