Chinese President Xi Jinping led the country on Saturday in observing a national day of mourning for those who lost their lives in the coronavirus pandemic. Clad in black, Xi paid his respects to victims of the outbreak with three minutes of silence starting at 10am. As people stood in silence, the sound of air sirens blasted across the country along with horns from cars, trains, and ships. All of the six other Politburo Standing Committee members also joined the ceremony, along with other senior leaders including Vice-President Wang Qishan, Vice-Premier Liu He, Vice-Premier Hu Chunhua, Politburo member Yang Jiechi, director of the General Office of the Communist Party Ding Xuexiang and Beijing party chief Cai Qi. The officials all had white chrysanthemums, which symbolise grief, pinned on their lapels. Chinese government and state media websites, including Xinhua and People's Daily, changed their colour schemes to black and white for the day. This is the first time China has held a national day of mourning for a public health crisis. In Wuhan, a separate ceremony was led by Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, Hubei party chief Ying Yong and head of National Health Commission Ma Xiaowei, with other participants - some of whom wore medical clothing. Xi and his fellow mourners were not wearing masks in line with current guidelines that state they not necessary in small gatherings and at home. The sombre event coincided with the annual Ching Ming, or tomb-sweeping, festival, when people pay their respects to their ancestors and lost loved ones. Beijing announced on Friday that the day of mourning would be for the “martyrs” and “compatriots” who had died during the pandemic, as the country has sought to slowly relax travel restrictions and resume work. While families customarily gather together for Ching Ming, the government this year urged that control measures be taken to avoid further spread of the virus. Those steps include suspending the holding of remembrance services in high-risk areas, limiting the number of people in gatherings and encouraging the use of online funeral services. Since Covid-19 first spread from Wuhan in central China at the end of last year, the country has officially reported 81,639 confirmed cases and 3,326 deaths. Nearly 3,400 medical workers were reported to have been infected, with more than a dozen deaths. Flags across the country and at overseas embassies were flown at half-mast, and all public entertainment was suspended for the day. National days of mourning are uncommon in China, but recent events include memorials for the 69,181 people who died in the Sichuan earthquake of May 2008, the Yushu quake in April 2010 and the Gansu landslides in August 2010. Despite initial missteps in containing the Covid-19 outbreak, Beijing has sought to portray its subsequent response efforts against the epidemic as a “people’s war”, praising frontline medical workers as “angels in white”. Last month, Xi travelled to Wuhan, the epicentre of the initial outbreak, where he proclaimed success in “turning the tide” on the ground. But the epidemic’s human toll has seen a national outpouring of grief and anger, particularly after the death of Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang , who was detained by local authorities after warning online in late December of a new viral infection he compared to Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome). Li, 34, was reprimanded for “spreading rumours online”, but then later contracted the virus himself and died in February, prompting online calls for official accountability and freedom of speech. Li became the face of the pandemic as it spread around the world. A government investigation report released over a month later blamed Wuhan police for their handling of the case, and criticised “hostile forces” for seeking to smear the ruling Communist Party, including by “instigating public emotions” through Li’s case. Wuhan lockdown led to dramatic cut in global spread of coronavirus, researchers say The Hubei provincial government said on Thursday it would declare 14 people who died fighting Covid-19 as “martyrs” – the highest honorary title from the Communist Party – including 12 frontline medical workers, one of whom was Li. On Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social network, hundreds of thousands of users left posts on Li’s pages, including images of burning candles to show their grief and warnings not to forget. “Without repentance, reflection or reckoning, how can we remember?” one comment read. The Chinese authorities have told people they must register for tomb-sweeping online or via phone because of the outbreak. People who have not completed a 14-day quarantine are forbidden from coming outside to join in the annual tradition of paying respect to the dead. In total 59,000 people in the capital Beijing have registered for Saturday, and 42,000 and 21,000 for Sunday and Monday. This shows a sharp fall from last year, when cemeteries in Beijing had 433,000 visitors, according to figures from the municipal government. Sign up now and get a 10% discount (original price US$400) off the China AI Report 2020 by SCMP Research. Learn about the AI ambitions of Alibaba, Baidu & JD.com through our in-depth case studies, and explore new applications of AI across industries. The report also includes exclusive access to webinars to interact with C-level executives from leading China AI companies (via live Q&A sessions). Offer valid until 31 May 2020.