He said the epidemic was “the fastest spreading, with the most infected and was the most difficult to prevent and control” since the founding of the People’s Republic.
“This is a crisis for us and it is also a major test,” he said, acknowledging that the country needed to learn from the “obvious shortcomings exposed” in its response, so it could improve its ability to handle future crises.
But Xi also told the Communist Party cadres that “the party Central Committee’s assessment of the epidemic is accurate, all the work arrangements are timely, and the measures adopted are effective.”
“The effectiveness of the prevention and control work has once again demonstrated the significant advantages of the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the socialist system with Chinese characteristics,” he said.
He said that controlling the outbreak in the central Chinese city of Wuhan and the wider province of Hubei as well as preventing the epidemic from spreading to Beijing, China’s political center, were the country’s top two strategic goals.
“First, [we must] resolutely curb the spread of epidemic … increase the rate of treatment and cure, and reduce the infection and death rates effectively in Hubei and Wuhan,” he said.
“Second, [we need to] make every effort to prevent and control the spread in Beijing … strengthen joint defenses and control in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, and cut off the source of infection as much as possible.”
Xi’s comments came as the number of confirmed cases neared 77,000 in mainland China, with more than 2,400 people dead. Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, accounted for most of the cases and death toll.
But there are signs of improvement. Excluding Hubei, there were 18 new confirmed cases on Saturday, a new low for this month, while 21 Chinese provinces said they had no new confirmed cases including Beijing.
As of Saturday, Beijing has 399 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection with four deaths and 189 people discharged. Although there were no new cases reported on Saturday, a string of hospital infections announced on Thursday hit hopes that the capital would soon return to normal.
According to footage aired by state broadcaster CCTV, all those taking part in the meeting, either in person or by video link, wore masks, except for Xi and six other members of the Politburo Standing Committee, who sat on a stage away from other participants.
While also acknowledging the epidemic would inevitably “have a considerable impact on the Chinese economy and society”, Xi said “the fundamentals of China’s long-term economic growth have not changed, and the impact of the epidemic is short term and overall controllable.”
While urging the various government leaders to push for a return to work and production, depending on the circumstances, Xi also promised more policies to stimulate economic growth.
“Fiscal policies will be more proactive, [we will] continue to study and introduce targeted cuts in taxes and fees in stages to help small, medium and micro enterprises overcome difficulties. The prudent monetary policy should be more focused on flexibility and moderation, [we should] make good use of existing financial support policies, and introduce new policy measures in a timely manner,” Xi said.
Xi also vowed to stabilize foreign trade and investment.
“[We must] make full use of compliant foreign trade policy tools such as export tax rebates and export credit insurance to ensure the smooth operation of the foreign trade industrial chain and supply chain and ensure that major foreign investment projects land,” he said.
He said China would also continue to pursue its economic and social goals this year, including job creation, poverty alleviation and maintaining social stability.
Xi also conveyed “sincere gratitude to compatriots in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, and overseas Chinese for their support in China’s fight with the epidemic.”
The meeting was presided over by Premier Li Keqiang and attended by the other members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the Communist Party’s highest decision-making body.
This meeting came a day before the Standing Committee of China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress, is due to consider delaying the annual meeting of the parliamentary session, originally expected to get under way on March 5.
The NPC Standing Committee will also consider measures to curb practices that may have contributed to the virus’s transmission to humans, including a ban on the wildlife trade and the consumption of game meat.