Coronavirus crisis chief leaves China Covid-19 epicentre in sign of Beijing’s faith that Hubei is on the mend

William Zheng

Chen Yixin, who was put in charge of central Hubei province’s containment efforts of the Covid-19 outbreak, has returned to Beijing, a sign that Chinese leaders were confident the disease that has killed more than 3,300 people in country is coming to end in its initial epicentre.

According to a notice posted on the website of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, the Communist Party’s top body in charge of law and order, Chen presided over a meeting in Beijing on Wednesday to direct law enforcement officials on the country’s anti-triad efforts.

Chen is the secretary general of the commission.

The notice did not address him as the deputy chief of a special task force on the anti-coronavirus campaign – a designation given to Chen in mid-February when he was parachuted into Hubei province to lead the battle against the disease.

On Thursday, the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis News also reported on Wednesday’s meeting but added that Chen had attended a meeting in Wuhan on Tuesday, making preparations for the lifting of the city’s lockdown the next day.

Wuhan, the provincial capital of Hubei, was unsealed on Wednesday, ending more than two months of lockdown, unprecedented control measures imposed in late January to stop the spread of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

Chen was considered a key lieutenant of President Xi Jinping as both men had worked in eastern Zhejiang province more than a decade ago.

“Beijing’s assessment is that the situation in Hubei, especially Wuhan, is now under control,” said Alfred Wu, associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. “Otherwise, the lockdown would not be lifted.”

Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan remained the commander-in-chief in charge of the anti-coronavirus campaign in Hubei. According to state media, Sun visited Wuhan University on Monday and the city’s railway station the next day.

Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan is in charge of the battle against coronavirus in Hubei. Photo: Xinhua

Wu said that as the situation had improved Sun, whose portfolio covered public health, needed to remain in Wuhan to lead. But other senior cadres like Chen could return to Beijing and focus on their original mandates.

Chen is no stranger to Hubei, especially Wuhan. He spent 15 months in the city as its party boss and later as a deputy party chief of Hubei. He became the secretary general of the commission in 2018.

A Wuhan official said Sun and Chen played complementary roles in Wuhan. While Sun was the leader in charge, Chen helped execute policies and decisions handed down by Beijing.

“Chen was like the de facto party chief in Hubei, enforcing strict discipline on local cadres, making sure decisions made by Beijing were being followed here. He also looks after social stability,” said the official who requested anonymity.

But after Ying Yong and Wang Zhonglin, the new party chief of Hubei province and Wuhan respectively, settled into their roles from mid-February, “the central government doesn’t need so much hand-holding”, the official said.

Responding to public anger over what was seen as poor handling of the deadly coronavirus outbreak early this year, Beijing reshuffled the leadership of Hubei on February 13, putting Ying and Wang in charge.

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