The mayor of Wuhan, the epicenter of China’s coronavirus outbreak that’s killed 81 and sickened at least 2,700 others, has offered to step down amid mounting criticism over the local government’s handling of the illness. In an interview with state media CCTV, Mayor Zhou Xianwang defended the city’s lockdown but said the handling of the crisis was “not good enough.”
“We locked down the city to cut the spread of virus, but it’s likely we’ll leave a bad reputation in history,” he said, according to Reuters. “As long as it helps contain the spread of virus, I’m willing to resign as a form of apology. Wuhan’s party chief, Ma Guoqiang, and I will take whatever the responsibility it comes.”
Zhou said more than five million people left Wuhan before the unprecedented lockdown went into effect on Jan. 22, but it wasn’t clear how many had left ahead of the Lunar New Year versus how many fled the virus. He said it’s likely another 1,000 suspected cases of the virus will be confirmed by experts, and that Beijing’s strict policies about sharing information were partly to blame for a delayed response.
Zhou said Beijing’s officials have to approve the information before it is released to the public, putting a hindrance on what could be released and when. His comments come as Premier Li Keqiang arrived in the city to take control over the outbreak management, sending a message that the central government would be playing a larger role in response efforts.
On the ground, Wuhan’s medical workers are low on protective suits while residents search for face masks. Wang Jiangping, the vice minister of industry and information technology said the city is burning through 100,000 single-use protective suits per day, but that factories are operating at just 40 percent capacity due to the holiday, according to the Wall Street Journal. He said the city had purchased enough outside supplies for approximately two more days.
Despite the lockdown, Ma said the city has plenty of meat, eggs and milk for residents. It was not clear how much longer officials had planned to keep the city shut down, but South China Morning Post reported over 4,000 residents who had left were attempting to return home. Wuhan’s culture and tourism bureau was reportedly calling for airlines and hotels in other areas of the country to help them until the lockdown was lifted.
Other countries with citizens trapped inside Wuhan have been planning evacuations, including the U.S. Consulate, which plans to charter a flight on Tuesday to evacuate personnel and others. Japan, which has 560 citizens currently in Hubei, said chartered evacuation flights are being prepared to leave “as soon as possible.” France said any citizens who want to leave will be taken via direct flight back to the country and kept in quarantine for 14 days, while Sri Lanka, which has about 860 students throughout China, is working to bring them all back.
Australia, which reportedly has 100 students in Wuhan, said it was “exploring all opportunities” to help with evacuations, while Germany said it was considering evacuating citizens and Thailand said it was ready to evacuate its citizens but hadn’t yet received permission from Beijing.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.