President Xi Jinping told the Communist Party’s top echelon to tackle an outbreak of a previously unknown coronavirus almost two weeks before Chinese authorities announced that there had been human-to-human transmission of the disease, according to an internal speech released on Saturday. In the speech to the party’s most powerful body, the Politburo Standing Committee, Xi outlined a contingency plan to respond to a crisis that he said could not only hamper the health of people in China, but also jeopardise the country’s economic and social stability – even its open-door policy. The speech was delivered on February 3 and published in the party’s bimonthly journal Qiushi on Saturday. It was also featured on state television and other official mouthpieces. The release comes as Xi tries to rally support to counter the biggest crisis in his tenure, including an outpouring of public anger over the death a week ago of ophthalmologist Li Wenliang , who was reprimanded by police for alerting his friends about the virus in its early days. In his speech, Xi also accused local officials of not carrying out edicts from the central government, vowing to punish incompetent officials. “I issued demands during a Politburo Standing Committee meeting on January 7 for work to contain the outbreak. On January 20, I gave special instructions about the work to prevent and control the outbreak and I have said we have to pay high attention to it,” he said. The document did not say whether the Politburo was aware of human-to-human transmission of the disease at the time but research published by Chinese scientists said such infections occurred as early as December. How China-US mistrust pushed the WHO into a coronavirus corner The speech by Xi also indicated his desire to win international understanding and support through propaganda and diplomacy. “We have to liaise and communicate with other countries and regions, to share information about the outbreak and containment strategies to win international understanding and support,” he said. The release of the speech also came as China reported 2,649 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 849 new severe cases. The death toll on the mainland rose by 143 to 1,524 . The total number of confirmed cases across the country stood at 66,581, of which 11,053 – 18 per cent – were severe. The disease has spread to multiple continents, including Africa , which reported its first case – in Egypt – on Friday and France, which reported the first death in Europe. In terms of domestic stability, Xi stressed the need to stabilise food and energy supplies to boost public confidence. He also ordered police to increase their presence on the streets. “[We must] ensure societal control and security by stepping up law enforcement, mobilising public security and armed police in joint efforts,” Xi said. The authorities should also update the public on their efforts to help boost public confidence, he said. “[We must] inform the people of what the party and government is doing and what is our next step forward to strengthen the public’s confidence,” he said. He said the government would encourage companies and scientific institutes to speed up research on drugs and vaccines for the outbreaks and they should share their information with the science sector. At the same time, Xi stressed that national economic goals set for this year, such as achieving “moderate prosperity”, would remain. This would be achieved by resuming production, boosting consumption and investment in infrastructure, particularly 5G communications. “There should not be any thought that we can wait a bit [because of the epidemic],” he said. Coronavirus: infected Chinese tourist in France dies, in Europe’s first death Wu Qiang, a Beijing-based political analyst who specialises in analysing Xi’s speeches, said the president’s address was a “rare and interesting” shift from the past. “The speech was made at a time when Xi is facing heavy domestic and diplomatic pressure,” Wu said. “This is unprecedented. It sounds like he is defending and explaining how he has done everything in his capacity to lead epidemic prevention.” Meanwhile, a panel of experts from the World Health Organisation began to arrive in Beijing on a trip that will take in three provinces. National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng said the panel’s mission would include inspecting outbreak prevention work in urban and rural areas, and assessing viral analytics work before making recommendations to China. Speaking publicly for the first time since being sent to Wuhan, NHC deputy director Wang Hesheng said he would make sure that there “would not be another Wuhan” in Hubei province. Nine medical centres with a combined capacity of nearly 7,000 beds had opened in the city and the province was planning to open more to treat patients with mild symptoms. Various cities near Wuhan have stepped up quarantine. On Saturday, the small centre of Wuxue announced that with the exception of people working to contain the epidemic, anyone seen walking the streets would be sent to a stadium for “study sessions”. Beijing has also appointed two senior firefighting commanders to the Ministry of Emergency Management’s leading group – Xu Ping, head of the ministry’s Forest Fire Bureau, and Qiong Se, director of its Fire and Rescue Bureau. Zhou Xuewen and Liu Wei, two of the ministry’s existing leading party members, have been appointed deputy ministers for emergency management. Purchase the China AI Report 2020 brought to you by SCMP Research and enjoy a 20% discount (original price US$400). This 60-page all new intelligence report gives you first-hand insights and analysis into the latest industry developments and intelligence about China AI. Get exclusive access to our webinars for continuous learning, and interact with China AI executives in live Q&A. Offer valid until 31 March 2020.