Chinese President Xi Jinping has warned that the country’s virus epidemic is “still grim and complex”, and called for more efforts to halt the outbreak.
He also stressed the need to revive industry and prevent the disease from disrupting spring planting of crops.
Mr Xi defended the ruling Communist Party’s response as “timely and effective” in a video conference with officials in charge of anti-disease work, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
But he sounded a note of caution in the face of hopes abroad that the disease that has killed more than 2,400 people since December might be under control.
Mr Xi said the situation was at a “critical stage” and called on officials to “resolutely curb the spread of the epidemic”.
“The current epidemic situation is still grim and complex,” Xinhua cited Mr Xi as saying.
“Prevention and control are at the most critical stage.”
The ruling party is trying to strike a difficult balance between stopping the virus and reviving China’s vast manufacturing and other industries.
Most of the world’s second-largest economy has been shut down since late January in the most sweeping anti-disease measures ever imposed and are only gradually reopening.
Forecasters say China might rebound quickly if the outbreak can be controlled by the end of March. But they warn that this quarter’s economic output will shrink by as much as 1% from the quarter ending in December after Beijing extended the Lunar New Year holiday to keep factories and offices closed and told the public to avoid travelling.
Concern is growing that the disease might be spreading in South Korea and other countries, instead of only affecting people who visited China and others who had close contact with them.
Mr Xi said the epidemic was a health emergency with the “fastest spread” and “most difficult prevention and control” in China since the Communist Party came to power in 1949, according to Xinhua.
“For us, this is a crisis and a big test,” Mr Xi was cited as saying.
The report made no mention of criticism from members of the public that officials delayed taking action against the disease and might be concealing details of its impact, but Mr Xi was cited as saying “all work arrangements are timely” and anti-disease measures were effective.
He said officials should help factories and other companies reopen and make sure low-income workers were employed.
The president said “low-risk areas” in China should adjust disease-control measures to “fully restore production”, while higher-risk areas should keep their focus on epidemic prevention.