China on Saturday mourned the thousands of victims who have died from the new pneumonia-causing coronavirus, with the leadership apparently trying to underscore that the country has successfully slowed the pace of new infections.
In Beijing, national flags were lowered to half-staff, and public events were suspended while the nation observed a three-minute moment of silence at 10 a.m., although Saturday marked the start of a three-day weekend in celebration of the Qingming tomb-sweeping festival.
On the internet, front pages of many state-run websites and apps turned to monochrome black-and-white in remembrance of the people that the Chinese government calls "martyrs" and "compatriots" who died in the fight against COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
The novel coronavirus was first detected late last year in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, known as a business and transportation hub with a population of around 11 million.
On Saturday morning, Chinese President Xi Jinping attended a national mourning ceremony in honor of those who have fallen victim to the virus, along with other Chinese leaders, including Premier Li Keqiang, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
With white flowers pinned to their clothing, they paid silent tribute in front of a national flag flying at half-staff outside the Huairen Hall, one mainly used by the ruling Communist Party as a meeting place for the Politburo, according to the news agency.
[Screenshot from a state-run website]
Some foreign affairs experts say China has effectively declared itself free of the epidemic by holding such a ceremony, but the United States has criticized Beijing for underreporting the total number of infection cases and deaths it has suffered from the outbreak.
On Saturday, China reported 83 new cases of coronavirus infection for the mainland, 19 with symptoms and 64 who showed none.
The National Health Commission said all but one of the 19 symptomatic cases confirmed over one day to the end of Friday were in people arriving from abroad.
In total, there were 1,030 asymptomatic cases, patients who tested positive without showing any symptoms, still under medical observation.
China began publishing asymptomatic cases in its daily coronavirus update on Wednesday, in response to growing public concern that "silent" carriers may cause another wave of infection as more people return to work after lockdowns are relaxed.
The tally of confirmed symptomatic cases for mainland China now stands at 81,639. The commission also reported four more deaths, all in hardest-hit Hubei Province, of which the capital city is Wuhan, taking the total number of fatalities on the mainland to 3,326.