Beijing held a grand ceremony Tuesday morning to honor scientists and medical workers. State media says Covid-19 has been vanquished in the country. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese President Xi Jinping extolled the Communist Party’s “superiority” as well as tenacious leadership on Tuesday morning as he proclaimed China’s “resounding success” in the epic struggle against Covid-19. 

Xi told a packed auditorium inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing that the fact the pandemic was successfully contained in China, while the novel coronavirus continued spread through other countries, was compelling proof of the merits of China’s socialist system. 

The leader said China’s political and social systems had been put to the test in a speech at a top-level commendation ceremony also attended by Premier Li Keqiang, all other standing members of the party’s high-powered Politburo as well as more than 3,000 representatives. He said the way the party and the nation had mobilized people, ramped up the production of vital supplies and coordinated the effort to fend off the disease and save lives showcased the manifold advantages of the party’s approach.

“China is the first major economy to have recuperated from the crisis and achieved economic recovery, a testimony to its resilience and vibrancy… China has emerged stronger and its people are more confident and patriotic than ever,” said Xi, to a thunder of applause from the audience as seen in a simulcast by state broadcaster China Central Television. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping visits the Covid-19 epicenter Wuhan, Hubei province, on March 10. Photo: AFP

In his speech, Xi also jabbed “certain countries” for seeking to “besmirch China’s efforts and goodwill and shift the blame of their own undoing in fighting Covid.” He argued that China had been “transparent all along” in sharing pandemic information with the world, which “helped save tens of millions of lives around the world.”

In the thick of the contagion back in January and February, few could have envisaged that China would so swiftly suppress the virus and restore commerce and business throughout the country. 

Having squashed sporadic resurgences hitting Xinjiang, Liaoning and Beijing and whittled down infections within the span of a few weeks, the situation nationwide has improved to the point that a big gathering of cadres, scientists and medical workers under one ceiling for an honor and award ceremony was safe enough to be held without VIP attendees needing to wear masks or space themselves apart.  

Beijing thinks it is high time it laid claim to being the first major power to have won the fight against the pathogen, with all regions across mainland China sustaining a month-long streak of no local infections. 

Beijing’s victory is also borne out by official statistics: among the 339 cities across the country that have reported confirmed cases since the outbreak, only five of them still have locally infected patients being treated as of Tuesday. All of the 10 new cases reported on Monday were imported. Wuhan and the rest of the central province of Hubei, the original ground zero of the plague, is on a 31-day run of zero cases.   

However, contrary to previous expectations, Xi did not announce at the event the launch of a Chinese vaccine, despite state media trumpeting the imminent arrival of four indigenous vaccines that had been nearing the end of their third-stage human trials. 

The highlight of Tuesday’s feel-good victory celebration was China’s top pulmonologist Zhong Nanshan being feted by Xi on the central rostrum of the Great Hall of the People, for his sterling leadership when heading an expert panel advising the central government on its response.

Zhong received a top-honor medal from Xi while three other awardees, including Major General Chen Wei from the People’s Liberation Army’s Military Sciences Academy, who led the military’s quest for a vaccine, also received medals from the leader. 

Xi confers a top-honor medal on Zhong Nanshan, head of an expert penal advising the top leadership. Photo: Xinhua
A van carrying the four awardees, including pulmonologist Zhong Nanshan, is escorted by PLA honor guards while en route to the Great Hall of the People to meet President Xi Jinping. Photos: Xinhua
Representatives receive medals and plaques commending their work in the fight against the virus. Photo: Xinhua

There was no mention, however, of whistleblower Li Wenliang, a doctor who was among the first in Wuhan to be silenced for raising the alarm about the outbreak and later died from the disease.

Also, contrasting Xi’s speech, which was imbued with an extra dose of pride and patriotism, Zhong’s nationally televised remarks were a sobering reminder of the risks lurking.  

Zhong warned of complacency when he was invited to address the gathering after receiving his medal from Xi. 

“We cannot afford to slack off as the victory we now have is a partial one and breakthroughs must be made on multiple fronts, like finding the origins of the virus, breaking the chain of infections and developing and mass-producing vaccines,” said Zhong.  

In December, Zhong rushed to Wuhan following the emergence of mysterious infections there and sounded the alarm about human-to-human transmission in January, when China’s Center for Disease Control was appealing for calm.

Also, the 84-year-old epidemiologist previously cautioned that a fresh wave may hit the northern hemisphere in the winter and said China must beef up its vigilance, noting that many people were no longer wearing masks because they thought the epidemic was almost over. 

Still, ordinary Chinese see Tuesday’s event as Beijing’s clearest signal that Covid-19 is under control, as they take pride in the triumph and get out and about to spend and travel. 

Lui Puen-kum, a senior lecturer at the Hong Kong Baptist University’s School of Journalism, said China’s victory over the virus was at most a pyrrhic one. 

“The chest-thumping ceremony in Beijing cannot gloss over all the botched response and cover-ups, especially during the onset of the crisis in Wuhan. When the nation honors scientists and medical workers, whistleblowers like Dr Li are forgotten in the official discourse, and officials responsible for all the rampant underreporting and the initial widespread of the virus are all let go lightly,” said Lui.

He said Beijing had again put a positive spin on a still-evolving crisis and portrayed its draconian anti-virus measures as highly successful to reinforce its rule and smother dissidents. 

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