China’s top leadership has admitted “shortcomings and deficiencies” in the country’s response to the deadly coronavirus outbreak.
The rare admission came from the Politburo Standing Committee, which called for an improvement in China’s emergency management system.
It also ordered a “severe” crackdown on illegal wildlife markets where the virus is thought to have emerged.
The death toll rose to 425, with more than 20,000 confirmed cases.
The government’s initial handling of the outbreak has been widely criticised.
Officials have been accused of downplaying the severity of the virus at the start of the outbreak and in some cases, attempting to keep news of it under wraps.
One doctor in Wuhan who tried to warn his fellow colleagues about the outbreak in early January was accused of “making false comments” and told by police to stop the “illegal activity”.
It was only later in January that the government ramped up harsh emergency measures – ordering the virtual lockdown of Hubei province, where the virus is believed to have originated.
On Monday alone, there were 64 new deaths, China’s National Health Commission said – all in Hubei.
There are more than 150 cases in other countries, with one death in the Philippines.
On Tuesday, Hong Kong confirmed its first death from the coronavirus. Broadcaster RTHK said the 39-year-old man, who suffered from an underlying illness, had visited Wuhan on 21 January.
The new coronavirus causes severe acute respiratory infection and symptoms usually start with a fever, followed by a dry cough.
The number of deaths in China, excluding Hong Kong, now exceeds the 349 killed on the mainland in the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) outbreak of 2002-03. But the mortality rate of the new virus is about 2.1% – much lower than that of Sars at around 9.6% – suggesting it is not as deadly.