January 30, 2020 / 2:48 PM / 23 days ago

UPDATE 1-China sacks senior city health official unable to answer basic questions

(Recasts, adds details)

BEIJING, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Chinese authorities on Thursday sacked the health chief of a city near the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak whose appearance on state television being unable to answer basic questions sparked widespread public anger.

Tang Zhihong, who ran the health department in Huanggang city, which has reported almost 500 confirmed cases and 12 deaths, appeared on state television earlier on Thursday.

But on being questioned by a central government inspection team and a reporter on issues like how many people a certain hospital under her remit could handle, she could not immediately answer.

“I don’t know, I’m unclear,” she said, when being asked how many sick people there were. “I only know how many beds there are. Don’t ask me how many people are being treated.”

A few hours later, in a terse and brief statement, the city’s health department said Tang had been removed. It gave no other details.

It was not possible to reach her for comment.

The original story featuring Tang generated more than half a million comments on the Weibo account of state television’s news channel within a few hours of it being posted, most of them in a very angry tone.

The government has said it will investigate and punish officials involved in fighting the virus who slack off on their jobs.

The number of cases in Huanggang is second only to that of nearby Wuhan, where the virus was first reported in December. Huanggang has also been largely shut off from the outside world by the government as it seeks to control the virus’ spread. (Reporting by Beijing newsroom; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Jon Boyle and Hugh Lawson)

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