Xi Jinping in Beijing in March 2015.
Lintao Zhang/Getty
  • China cancelled the central event of its political calendar after it became impossible to hold a mass gathering because of the deadly coronavirus outbreak ravaging the country.
  • The annual meeting of the National People's Congress in Beijing was due to start on March, but will now be delayed to an unspecified time.
  • Experts say the risk of the disease spreading of the event is high.
  • New arrivals to Beijing are currently placed in a 14-day quarantine, making the logistics of a large-scale event almost impossible.
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider SA's home page.

China cancelled the central event of its political calendar because of the crippling impact of the coronavirus epidemic that has killed more than 2,500 people there.

China was due to kick off the annual meeting of the National People's Congress in Beijing, which symbolically approves the nation's political agenda for the year, on March 5.

But China's state TV said on Monday that the event is now postponedReuters reported. Its new date has yet to be decided.

According to The Guardian, this is the first time the event has been delayed since the Cultural Revolution of the 1970s.

The delay also means that the Chinese People's Political Consultative Process - China's top political advisory body - is postponed, The Associated Press reported. The events run together and are collectively known as the Two Sessions.

Early in the progress of the outbreak, commentators predicted that if the disease kept worsening then the event would likely have to be scrapped.

All people who return to Beijing from other parts of the country are currently subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine, which would make the logistics of a large, national event almost impossible.

Nonetheless, formally abandoning their plans is a stark move that makes clear the authorities there could not exert sufficient control over the virus to protect the gathering.

The standing committee of the Congress met earlier on Monday before making the decision.

More than 5,000 usually delegates gather for the event.

An anonymous source familiar with the organiSation of the events last week told the South China Morning Post that the meetings would be an unacceptable health risk, Business Insider's Mia Jankowicz reported.

"The health risk of convening the annual sessions early next month would be too high when the coronavirus outbreak has not yet been effectively contained," they said.

"The risk of cross infections would be very high for nearly 8,000 people … as well as staff responsible for administering the meetings, under the same roof of the Great Hall of the People."

Ling Li, a lecturer on Chinese politics at the University of Vienna, told Agence France-Presse before the decision was made that China deciding not to delay it would be seen as "unreasonable and signal a desperate effort of the authorities to keep up the appearance of political normality, which is not there."

Dorothy Solinger, a Chinese politics expert at the University of California at Irvine, also told AFP it would be a "smart move to postpone."

"Look at the message that sends," she said. "We (the government) are putting all our effort into combatting the virus. We don't have the time to hold these meetings now."

The coronavirus has now infected more than 70,000 people in China, and has spread to at least 29 other countries.

The outbreak has been a political challenge for China's ruling party, and has caused some in China to call for freedom of speech protections.