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  69.     World Asia China
  70.  
  71. Wuhan Mayor Says Beijing Rules Partially Responsible for Lack of Transparency
  72. Zhou Xianwang says central government needed to approve release of sensitive information about coronavirus
  73. Chinese authorities are urging the public to remain calm as they try to contain a mysterious, fast-spreading coronavirus that has killed dozens of people and infected thousands. However, millions have already left Wuhan, the city at the center of the outbreak.
  74. By Josh Chin
  75. Updated Jan. 27, 2020 9:41 pm ET
  76.  
  77. BEIJING—The mayor of Wuhan, the city at the epicenter of China’s viral outbreak, said rules imposed by Beijing limited what he could disclose about the threat posed by the pathogen, suggesting the central government was partially responsible for a lack of transparency that has marred the response to the fast-expanding health crisis.
  78.  
  79. Mayor Zhou Xianwang’s comments were broadcast on China’s state television network hours after Premier Li Keqiang arrived in the city to meet infected patients and front-line health workers—an attempt to tamp down rising public frustration with how local officials have dealt with the coronavirus outbreak.
  80.  
  81. Wuhan, the sprawling capital of central China’s Hubei province, remained on lockdown on Monday as part of an unprecedented effort to contain the spread of the virus, which has infected more than 4,500 people and killed at least 106, according to authorities.
  82. Mayor Zhou Xianwang pushed back against criticism of Wuhan’s handling of the outbreak.
  83. Photo: Wang HE/Getty Images
  84.  
  85. The city of Beijing reported its first death from the coronavirus on Monday, as did the southern island province of Hainan.
  86.  
  87. Comments on Chinese social media and by health experts have excoriated local officials for not being more forthcoming about the threat posed by the virus, which researchers traced to a market selling wild-animal meat in the city late last year.
  88.  
  89. Mr. Zhou used an interview with state broadcaster China Central Television to push back against criticism of Wuhan’s handling of the virus, saying his hands were tied by rules that required Beijing’s approval before releasing sensitive information. His careful attempt to shift blame to the central leadership mirrored complaints that local officials have expressed in private for years about President Xi Jinping’s rigid, top-down leadership style.
  90.  
  91. “As a local government official, after I get this kind of information I still have to wait for authorization before I can release it,” Mr. Zhou said. “This is one thing people didn’t understand at the time.”
  92. Share Your Thoughts
  93.  
  94. How justified is the Chinese government in controlling information about the coronavirus? Join the conversation below.
  95.  
  96. Wearing a blue face mask, Mr. Zhou told CCTV that he and Wuhan Communist Party Secretary Ma Guoqiang were prepared to be judged by history for imposing the lockdown on the city, which prompted runs on grocery stores and heightened residents’ feelings of anxiety.
  97.  
  98. “Comrade Ma Guoqiang and I are willing to accept responsibility,” Mr. Zhou said. “If in the end you say someone has to be held accountable, you say the masses have opinions, then we’re willing to appease the world by resigning.”
  99.  
  100. Messrs. Zhou’s and Ma’s fates remain unclear, and the two men couldn’t be reached for comment. During a similar coronavirus outbreak in 2003, Beijing’s mayor had made a similar pledge to resign, and was soon replaced.
  101. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, center, talks to shoppers at a supermarket in Wuhan.
  102. Photo: chinatopix/Associated Press
  103.  
  104. Mr. Zhou’s interview came as the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan became the first to cancel its annual People’s Congress conclave and its political consultative conference. The sessions, the most important political meetings of the year, were set to begin on Sunday, and the cancellation reflected the growing political stakes around the outbreak.
  105.  
  106. U.S. officials on Monday said Washington was working to help China stop the spread of the virus, while the State Department urged Americans to reconsider travel to China, citing the risks from the outbreak.
  107.  
  108. Vice President Mike Pence said U.S. government agencies, particularly the Centers for Disease Control, were taking strong action to deal with the virus. He added that the U.S. is conducting screenings at 20 airports that see the most travel from China.
  109.  
  110. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said he was discussing the spread of the virus with President Trump regularly. “This is a rapidly changing situation, and we are still learning about the virus,” he said.
  111.  
  112. Mr. Azar tweeted that he had spoken on the phone with Ma Xiaowei, head of China’s cabinet-level National Health Commission, and discussed increasing collaboration between their countries and the World Health Organization.
  113.  
  114. On Monday, Mr. Li, China’s No. 2 leader, became the highest-ranking official to visit Wuhan since the coronavirus outbreak. The website of the central government in Beijing published photos showing Mr. Li, wearing a face mask and swaddled in blue protective gear, as he toured medical facilities in Wuhan. In one image, Mr. Li appeared to be speaking through a walkie-talkie to a patient on a video screen.
  115.  
  116. Video posted on the central government’s social-media account showed Mr. Li visiting the site where construction crews are building one of two new hospitals authorities ordered built to house the infected. Asked by Mr. Li whether they had encountered any difficulties, construction workers can be heard yelling “no” in unison.
  117.  
  118. Mr. Xi usually reserves the top position on important issues for himself, but in this instance he appointed Mr. Li to head the Communist Party’s virus-response task force. State media haven’t reported on any visits to Hubei by Mr. Xi since the outbreak began.
  119.  
  120. In a sign of the high degree of concern by senior officials, the central government on Monday said it was extending the annual Lunar New Year holiday, currently under way, to Feb. 2 to delay the infection risk posed by the migration of tens of millions of mostly rural laborers back to their workplaces in the cities. Shanghai and the nearby manufacturing hub of Suzhou went one step further, ordering residents not to come back to work until Feb. 9.
  121.  
  122. Some of the country’s biggest tech companies followed suit. TikTok-owner Bytedance Inc. and social-media giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. both sent out notes urging mainland Chinese employees to work from home until at least Feb. 9.
  123.  
  124. In Beijing and other cities, residents reported being visited by local officials and asked whether they had recently traveled to Hubei. Those who had were told to isolate themselves in their homes. One Beijing property-rental company issued a notice telling tenants from Hubei not to return to the city, warning those who disobeyed to accept the legal consequences. “This is a political duty. We’re required to give it high-level importance,” the notice read.
  125.  
  126. He Qinghua, an expert with China’s cabinet-level National Health Commission, said at a press conference in Beijing that the country’s rural areas were a “weak link” in efforts to control the coronavirus, which is similar to the pathogen that caused the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in late 2002 and early 2003.
  127.  
  128. “Our rural population has no experience in combating SARS. SARS was mainly in cities,” Mr. He said. “Therefore, their awareness of epidemic prevention is still low.”
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  136.  
  137. Regions bordering China took new steps to isolate themselves from the outbreak. On China’s northern border, Mongolia planned to restrict car and pedestrian traffic from China starting on Tuesday, the country’s official state-run news agency, Montsame, reported.
  138.  
  139. The gambling haven of Macau, a semiautonomous region of China on the mainland’s southern border, on Monday said it would deny entry to anyone from Hubei or who had been in Hubei recently, unless they had certification that they were free of the coronavirus.
  140.  
  141. —Grace Zhu, Lekai Liu, Stephanie Armour and Catherine Lucey contributed to this article.
  142.  
  143. Write to Josh Chin at josh.chin@wsj.com
  144.  
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