China is facing a tough challenge attempting to control the outbreak of a novel coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, at a time when the country’s people should have been gathering happily with their families to observe the traditional spring festival.

Wuhan, a mega city in central China’s Hubei province, has suffered the most. As the virus continues to spread throughout the country at an alarming rate, China is beefing up nationwide defenses to fight against the disease.

It has been more than a month and a half since the first case of infection was reported. However, experts said this may be just the beginning.

Wuhan, as well as a dozen other cities in Hubei, has suspended  all its external and domestic transportation and started building new hospitals in suburban areas.

The political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee held a rare meeting last Saturday, the first day of the Lunar New Year, and called for all government departments to help stop the disease from spreading.

Judging from the emergency measures launched, the severity of the epidemic is unprecedented.

“Life is of paramount importance,” Xi Jinping, party general secretary and Chinese President, said in the meeting. “When an epidemic breaks out, a command is issued. It is our responsibility to prevent and control it.”

The meeting ordered officials in Hubei province to take all possible measures to manage the situation.

Peng Zhiyong (Center), head of the department of critical care medicine of Zhongnan Hospital, diagnoses a patient with his colleagues on January 24, 2020. Photo: Xinhua/  Xiong Qi

Ma Xiaowei, director of the National Health Commission, said on Jan. 26 that the one-week Lunar New Year holiday from Jan. 24 to 30 provides the optimal occasion for large-scale quarantine and sterilization  in the country and would be a critical period for control of the epidemic.

The outbreak was still in the early stage, Ma said. With different measures, the country could curb the spread of the virus at lower costs quickly, he added.

In the face of the epidemic, Hubei province also faced a shortage of medical staff, masks, protective equipment and wards.

More than 900 medical staff in seven teams have been sent to Hubei from other parts of the country. An additional 1,600 medical staff plus 5,000 additional beds will be deployed soon, Ma said.

It may take some more time to see whether the launched anti-epidemic measures will show their anticipated effects.

More about Ma Xiaowei’s press briefing last Sunday on ATimesCN.com

Workers disinfect a train in Lanzhou, northwest China’s Gunsu Province, on January 26. Photo: Xinhua / Du Zheyu
Members of a medical team in Beijing prepare to leave for Wuhan on January 26. Photo: Xinhua/Zhang Yuwei
Workers count masks in Linli, central China’s Hunan province. Photo: Xinhua / Chen Sihan
Mechanical equipment working at the construction site of a special hospital in the Caidian District, western suburb of Wuhan. Photo: Xinhua / Xiao Yijiu