China announced a 3rd straight day decline in new virus cases on Sunday, as it became clear that the country's leadership was aware of the potential gravity of the situation well before the warning came to light.
In mainland China there are 2,009 new cases, taking its total number of confirmed cases to 68,500, according to the National Health Commission in the region.
Despite 142 recent fatalities, the incidence of fatality remained stable. The death toll from COVID-19 in mainland China, a disease that originated from a new form of coronavirus, is now 1665.
The outbreak started in Wuhan, the capital of central Chinese Hubei province, in December. It has since spread to more than 24 countries and prompted the Chinese government to take sweeping preventive measures, including a lockdown of cities with a combined population of over 60 million.
After Chinese President Xi Jinping played a subdued public role in the early days of the outbreak, state media released a speech Xi delivered February 3 on Saturday evening in which he said he gave instructions to combat the infection as early as January 7.
The announcement suggests that top leaders were aware of the potential extent of the disease well before the public was made aware of those risks.
It wasn't until late January that authorities said the virus would spread among citizens and the public concern started to rise.
Xi also announced in his speech that he directed the virus epicenter to be locked down: "On January 22, in view of the rapid spread of the disease and the difficulties of prevention and control, I made a clear request that the province of Hubei carry out extensive and strict checks on the outflow of citizens."
Wuhan became the first town to place an unparalleled halt on outbound travel on 23 January.
Xi had previously been seen as taking a backseat in the crisis, while Hubei and Wuhan authorities faced public fury about their initial handling of the epidemic.
Earlier this month, the rage reached a peak after the death of Li Wenliang, a young doctor who was reprimanded by local police for trying to spread a message about the virus. He actually ended up dying from the illness.
In apparent reaction to the outrage, the top officials of the ruling Communist Party in Hubei and Wuhan were axed and replaced last week. The publication of Xi's speech suggests that the party hopes to show it has acted decisively from the outset. But it also exposes Xi to scrutiny as to why it didn't warn the general population earlier.
Trust in the government's approach to emergencies remains broken after the 2002 and 2003 SARS epidemic, which had been covered up for months.
Even as officials have pledged accountability through the current outbreak, they have called "rumor-mongers" citizens like Li. Citizen journalists who criticized the official narrative have vanished and are assumed to be arrested.
The epidemic has caused several countries to impose travel restrictions on recent Chinese travelers.
About 400 Americans were asked in Japan onboard the Diamond Princess, the quarantined cruise ship docked at Yokohama, to determine by Sunday morning whether they would remain or take chartered aircraft arranged by the US government to carry them south.
The flights are expected to take place Sunday night. Passenger Matthew Smith The Associated Press that he and his wife have already decided not to take the trips, and will remain on the plane. "We don't," he said in a Twitter comment.
The ship's 14-day quarantine is set to close as early as Wednesday and Smith said he'd rather wait for it.
Those taking the chartered planes will be taken to California's Travis Air Force Base, with some continuing to Texas ' Lackland Air Force Base, where they will have to undergo another 14-day quarantine.
So far, after 67 new cases were detected Saturday, 285 people from the ship have tested positive for the virus.
Those with conditions of fever and cough will not be allowed to board evacuation planes, said Tokyo's US Embassy.
In Malaysia, the virus has been confirmed successfully by an 83-year-old American woman who was a guest on another cruise ship that was allowed to land in Cambodia.
The Malaysian Ministry of Health said on Friday 145 passengers traveled to Malaysia from the MS Westerdam.
Upon landing at Kuala Lumpur airport the woman and her 85-year-old husband were reported to have complications and were taken to a hospital for further examinations.
Friday, the woman was infected with the virus and her husband tested negative but stayed under observation.
Previously, Cambodia said all the 1455 travelers had tested negative for the virus. Many have already made connections for the onward trip.
The ship's operator, Holland America, said in a statement that while the first results were reported, "they are preliminary at this point and we are awaiting secondary testing for confirmation." A news briefing was planned by the Malaysian Health Ministry later Sunday.