BEIJING:The number of deaths and infections caused by the coronavirus in China has risen sharply after authorities changed the way they calculated the figures amid a purge of party officials in the stricken province of Hubei.
The political fallout from the outbreak also escalated on Thursday with the firing of party chief of Hubei province, the party chief of Wuhan and the head of China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office. Ying Yong, the new party chief of Hubei, came up through the ranks in Zhejiang, where the president, Xi Jinping, previously served as party secretary and was also part of anti-corruption campaigns, the president’s signature initiative.
On Wednesday, the state-run China Daily news site reported that a powerful Beijing official parachuted into Wuhan to supervise the fight against the virus had reprimanded local officials for failing to organise treatment quickly enough for people reporting to hospitals with symptoms of the illness.
Thursday’s jump in infections may have been another impetus for the purges.
On Thursday China confirmed 254 additional deaths – the majority of them in Hubei, the centre of the outbreak, bringing the total death toll to 1,367. After days of declines in new infections, Hubei province reported an enormous increase of almost 15,000 – a jump of about a third on the total so far.
Ying Yong, new secretary of the Hubei Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China, replacing Jiang Chaoliang is former Shanghai mayor.
The Communist Party leader of the city of Wuhan, Ma Guoqiang, 56, also lost his job, Xinhua said. He will be replaced by Wang Zhonglin, 57, the party secretary of the city of Jinan, in the eastern province of Shandong.
Another Beijing heavyweight, Chen Yixin, was flown into Hubei last week. He is chief of the party’s top law enforcement body – the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission – and is now in charge of handling the outbreak. The virus is believed to have originated from a live animal and seafood market in Wuhan, Hubei’s capital city.
News of the reshuffle coincided with a State Council meeting on Thursday when it was announced the draconian control measures currently in place in Wuhan – the epicentre of the outbreak – would be expanded to other Hubei cities including Huanggang and Xiaogan.
Jiang, 61, is the highest-ranking political casualty so far in the outbreak.
( Image is that of Ying Yong, New Hubei Party Chief)