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Chinese president Xi Jinping is NOT the face of the country’s fight against the spread of the coronavirus. He has not been pictured in the customary emergency photos visiting hospitals, doctors or patients. As the crisis ramped up, it was the premier, Li Keqiang, who visited Wuhan, the city at the centre of the outbreak.

Instead of those photos, state media have portrayed Xi as in command from a distance. He has issued  pledges to overcome the “devil virus” and approved the deployment of 1,400 military medics at a new hospital in Wuhan. On Monday, Xi chaired a meeting of the Communist party’s ruling politburo standing committee that ordered officials to improve the country’s emergency response system and public health regime.

Xi’s absence from the scene has been noticed and mocking comments have been removed from the Chinese social media platforms Weibo and Douban. One post was entitled “What Xi Dada has been doing these days” on, a Chinese-language discussion forum hosted overseas. “Maybe he’s already found a safe place to hide and quarantine himself,” one comment to that post read.

Xi’s  most recent public appearance was on January 28 when he met the director general of the World Health Organization in Beijing.

Today, Tuesday February 4, China announced 64 more deaths. That’s a bigger increase than Monday’s record daily increase in deaths. The virus has now killed at least 426 people in mainland China, exceeding the deaths in mainland China during the SARS outbreak of 2002-2003. SARS killed nearly 800 people globally. The number of total reported infections in China climbed to 20,000.

The vast majority of reported cases are still concentrated around Wuhan, thought to be the source of the virus, but the outbreak continues to spread to other parts of China. Several cities in Zhejiang, a coastal province with a strong trade and manufacturing sector, have shut schools, businesses, markets and shopping centers. The coastal city of Wenzhou, hundreds of miles east of Wuhan, had 291 confirmed cases of the coronavirus as of Sunday. The city of Taizhou, and several districts in the cities of Ningbo and Hangzhou have also been locked down. Those districts include the home of Alibaba.