Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday said Wuhan city had turned the tide against the deadly coronavirus, as he made his first visit to the virus' epicentre in a message that Beijing has the situation under control and vowed to resolutely fight for a victory against the novel COVID-19 outbreak.
Wearing a protective mask and accompanied by a retinue of military and health officials, Xi - who initially came under criticism for not acting in time to stem the virus when it first showed up in December last year, but later won praise for a decisive
follow-up action - visited a makeshift hospital and community residents and frontline workers in Wuhan.
Xi, 66, vowed to resolutely fight for a victory in the war against the coronavirus during his inspection tour of Wuhan, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
During his visit, Xi said the spread of coronavirus had been basically curbed in Hubei Province and its capital Wuhan where over 50 million people lived in total isolation since January 23 following a complete lockdown of the areas.
The initial success has been made in stabilising the situation and turning the tide in Hubei and Wuhan, Xi said.
Ahead of the President's visit on Tuesday, China's National Health Commission announced a dramatic drop in number of COVID-19 cases both of which fell below 20 mark for the first time since the NHC began daily reporting of cases in later part of January.
The NHC reported 19 new confirmed cases of infection and 17 fatalities on Monday. All the 17 new deaths were in Hubei province and in Wuhan, while Beijing and other cities geared up for "imported cases" with the return of large number of Chinese and foreigners to re-join work.
The overall confirmed cases in the Chinese mainland have reached 80,754 by the end of Monday. This included 3,136 people who died of the disease. 17,721 patients are still undergoing treatment while 59,897 patients have been discharged after recovery, the NHC said.
While the virus has abated in China, it has spread to over 100 countries. The death toll has reached 4,011 globally with more than 110,000 cases of infection.
This is the second visit to Wuhan by a top Chinese leader.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Wuhan on January 26 when the COVID-19 virus spread at an alarming pace, prompting a lockdown of the city and the Central Hubei province with 50 million people.
Xi, also general secretary of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) and head of the military, called for firm, solid and meticulous prevention and control efforts to defend Hubei and Wuhan.
The coronavirus has become a major challenge to Xi's leadership who is often referred to as China's most powerful leader after the CPC founder Mao Zedong, with the prospect of life-long tenure in power.
After over three-month long battle against the virus, China has come to a grinding halt with estimated losses of over USD 103 billion.
The virus has also caused acute distress among people as China locked down the Hubei province while implemented stringent measures all over the country including closure of factories and offices to contain the virus.
Xi said after hard work, the situation in Hubei and Wuhan had shown positive changes with important progress, but the prevention and control task remain arduous.
He praised the sacrifices of people of Wuhan and Hubei province.
The positive trend in preventing and controlling the virus could not have been achieved without the sacrifice, devotion, perseverance and hard efforts of the people of Wuhan, Xi said.
With their concrete actions, Wuhan people have demonstrated the strength and spirit of China, as well as the Chinese people's love for the family and the nation, which enables them to stick together through thick and thin, he said.
After his arrival in Wuhan, Xi went straight to Huoshenshan Hospital, the 1000-bed makeshift hospital built in record time of less than 10 days to inspect thousands of cases.
China also built another 1300-bed hospital equally in record time, rushed over 30,000 medical staff from the military as well as from all over to treat the spiralling number of cases.
The official media reported with the cases falling in big numbers, all the makeshift hospitals numbering over 14 are now being dismantled in Wuhan.
At the hospital, Xi greeted medical staff through television monitor and learned about community-based efforts for epidemic prevention and control, Xinhua reported.
He also visited residents of a community in Wuhan who are subject to self-quarantine, looking into the community-level prevention and control work as well as daily necessity supply.
Xi's visit sent a strong signal to the entire country and the world that China is ascending out of the darkest moment amid the outbreak, and the battle against the epidemic has now entered the next stage, state-run Global Times quoted analysts as
Xi's Wuhan visit at this moment shows the turning point of China's domestic fight against the epidemic has arrived and now the fight is shifting its focus to prevent imported cases of infection and gradually resume economic activities and production, analysts said.
Lu Keli, an associate professor at the school of Marxism studies in the Renmin University of China in Beijing told the Global Times that Xi's visit showed that China had achieved a phased victory at the current juncture that can help effectively stabilise and control the epidemic situation.