China honors virus victims with 3 minutes of reflection

The horns of automobiles trains and ships joined in what China's official Xinhua News Agency called a wail in grief for three minutes. (File/Representational)

With air raid sirens wailing and flags at half staff China held a three minute nationwide moment of reflection on Saturday to honor those who have died in the coronavirus outbreak especially martyrs who fell while fighting what has become a global pandemic.

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Commemorations took place at 10 am in all major cities but were particularly poignant in Wuhan the industrial city where the virus was first detected in December.

Wuhan was placed under complete lockdown on Jan 23 in an effort to stem the spread of the virus and has been lauded as a heroic city by the nations communist leadership for the sacrifices made by its 11 million citizens

People have gradually been allowed to travel in and out of Wuhan under strict conditions.The quarantine in the city is to be formally lifted on Wednesday.

In Beijing President Xi Jinping led other top officials all dressed in black suits with white carnations as they bowed before a flag at halfstaff in the leadership compound of Zhongnanhai.

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On Saturday, China reported one new confirmed case in Wuhan and 18 among people arriving from abroad along with four new deaths all in Wuhan. China now has recorded a total of 81639 cases and 3326 deaths although those figures are generally considered to be understated because of a lack of testing and a reluctance to report the scale of the original outbreak.

China's slow cautious emergence from the global pandemic comes as the US is struggling to deal with an outbreak that has taken more than 1860 lives in New York City alone. Hard hit European nations Italy, Spain and France are also seeing rising numbers of cases and deaths although strict social distancing measures such as those adopted by China appear to be having an effect.

The State Council China's Cabinet ordered that national flags be flown at halfstaff around the country and at Chinese embassies and consulates abroad and the suspension of all public recreational activities.

The horns of automobiles trains and ships joined in what China's official Xinhua News Agency called a wail in grief for three minutes. China has held such moments of silence in the past often to mark World War II era atrocities by Japan but rarely on a national scale.

The commemoration also comes on the traditional Qingming festival when Chinese visit the graves of their ancestors. Officials have banned such observances this year to avoid large gatherings that might contribute to a feared second wave of infections.

More than 3000 health care workers contracted COVID19 and the government says 14 died of the disease. Among them was Dr Li Wenliang who was threatened with punishment by police after publicizing news of the outbreak but has since been listed among the national martyrs.