President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday China was in a struggle against a “demon” epidemic, as the death toll from the new SARS-like virus soared to 106 and the first cases of human-to-human contagion were detected abroad.
Mr. Xi made his remarks during talks with head of the World Health Organisation in Beijing as a host of nations prepared to airlift their citizens from Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak.
“Chinese people are currently engaged in a serious struggle against an epidemic of a new type of coronavirus infection,” Mr. Xi told WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“The epidemic is a demon, and we cannot let this demon hide,” the Chinese leader said, pledging that the government would be transparent and release information on the virus in a “timely” manner.
His comments came after anger simmered on Chinese social media over the handling of the health emergency by local officials in central Hubei province, where the disease first emerged in December.
Some experts have praised Beijing for being more reactive and open about this virus compared to its handling of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic of 2002-2003.
But others say local cadres had earlier been more focused on projecting stability than responding to the outbreak when it began to spread earlier this month.
Since then, the number of cases has soared — doubling to more than 4,500 in the past 24 hours.
WHO chief Tedros praised China’s response to the crisis during a meeting with Foreign Minister Wang Yi, according to state news agency Xinhua.
Global concern has been growing, with Japan and Germany on Tuesday reporting the first human-to-human infections outside China.
Until now, all cases in more than a dozen countries involved people who had been in or around Wuhan.
A U.S.-chartered flight bound for California is scheduled to leave Wuhan on Wednesday with consular staff and some of its citizens.