The coronavirus epidemic that has killed over 2,400 people is communist China’s “largest public health emergency” since its founding in 1949, said President Xi Jinping on Sunday.
It is necessary to learn from “obvious shortcomings exposed” during China’s response, Xi added at an official meeting to coordinate the virus fight – a rare acknowledgment by a Chinese leader.
In comments reported by state broadcaster CCTV, Xi said the epidemic “has the fastest transmission, widest range of infection and has been the most difficult to prevent and control”.
“This is a crisis for us and it is a big test,” he said.
Xi’s comments come as the number of virus infections passed 78,000 in mainland China – with countries such as South Korea on high alert and Italy taking containment measures as well.
Xi acknowledged on Sunday that the epidemic will “inevitably have a large impact on the economy and society”, but he stressed the effects will be “short-term” and controllable.
China’s death toll from the coronavirus epidemic rose to 2,461 on Sunday after the government said 97 more people had died, all but one of them in the epicenter of Hubei province.
The National Health Commission also confirmed another 648 new cases in China.
The vast majority of both deaths and new infections were in the hard-hit Hubei provincial capital of Wuhan, where the virus first emerged in December.
China’s total infections reached 78,766, a compilation of data from Johns Hopkins researchers said in its daily update.
The coronavirus has spread to more than 25 countries and is causing mounting alarm due to new pockets of outbreak in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.
China’s numbers of daily new infections are well down from the outbreak’s early height.
But China has sowed confusion about the data by repeatedly changing its counting methods.