The ruling Chinese Communist Party looks set to postpone the annual meeting of the National People's Congress (NPC) as large parts of China remained under lockdown amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic, state media reported on Monday.
"The party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core has ... stressed that the epidemic prevention and control work must be taken as the most important work at present," state news agency Xinhua reported, adding that attempts to contain the epidemic are in a "critical period."
It said many NPC delegates are busy with epidemic control work, and that this should take priority.
But it said the final decision rests with the NPC standing committee.
If, as looks likely, the NPC is postponed, the meeting of its sister body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) will be postponed too.
Sources told RFA that the parliamentary sessions are now more likely to be held in the second half of this year.
Health authorities said there are now 70,640 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with a total of 1,772 deaths.
In worst-hit Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, 1,933 new cases were confirmed in a single day, with 100 new deaths reported.
The city government has starting banning face-to-face deliveries of food and other items to quarantined households, with goods left at a centralized delivery point in residential compounds for individuals to collect, Xinhua reported.
Online shopping and food delivery
Quarantined residents are relying heavily on online shopping and food delivery services, and passes are now required to move between districts in the city, residents have told RFA.
"All residential communities in the city [were] sealed off starting Feb. 11, amid efforts to further strengthen the control of the epidemic and minimize the flow of personnel," Xinhua cited a city government notice as saying.
Wuhan resident Liu Han said the quarantine regulations imposed by the city government are getting stricter as the epidemic progresses.
"All the households need to buy supplies, so they sent a representative out to get things like food," Liu said. "There's always something that needs to be bought, because this or that has run out."
"But none of us really knows how long the epidemic is going to last."
A Wuhan resident surnamed Wang said some people are relying on online purchases to get by.
"There is [only] one delivery a week made to our residential compound," Wang said. "Some residents in other communities are doing private group buying."
"A lot of supermarket staff are under huge psychological pressure right now, because there have been very high infection rates among them," she said.
Wang said staff at the Wuhan Department Store chain had said morale is running low.
"They told us that four of their colleagues have succumbed so far," she said.
Virus continues to mutate
She said the Wuhan Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had said that the virus continues to mutate, and that while the disease it causes may be getting milder, it is remaining in people's systems without causing symptoms for long periods of time in some cases.
CCTV reported on the case of a 42-year-old man from the eastern province of Shandong who was admitted to hospital in Rizhao and tested positive for COVID-19 even after remaining under quarantine in a clinical setting for 14 days.
Li Xingwang of the Infectious Diseases Diagnosis and Research Center at Beijing Ditan Hospital told local media that asymptomatic infections are largely being found among close contacts of confirmed patients, and more often occur in family members.
Chinese health officials called on Monday for patients who have recovered from the coronavirus to donate blood so that plasma containing valuable antibodies can be given to critically ill patients.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said that plasma therapy is a "valid approach" to treating COVID-19.
Meanwhile, authorities continue to crack down on critics of the government's response to the epidemic.
Former Guangzhou prosecutor Yang Bin was detained in Panyu on Saturday, with sources suggesting she had made comments on the sensitive topic of whistleblowing doctor Li Wenliang, who died of COVID-19 after being accused of rumor-mongering about the threat from the new virus in the early stages of the epidemic.
Yang wrote on her Weibo social media account on Feb. 8: "Just got a calling asking me ... if I live in Guangzhou, and then if I had posted or retweeted anything about Li Wenliang on social media."
Yang said the caller had eventually identified themselves as being from the district police department.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.