“This is the kind of ‘black swan’ moment when the fundamental legitimacy of the party is at stake,” said Kerry Brown, a professor at King’s College London who was first secretary in the British Embassy in Beijing during China’s last major epidemic, the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002.

“It’s the moment when the party is supposed to show the merit of its highly controlled, highly coordinated system and its side of the social contract,” Brown said. Instead, “people seem to be getting more and more nervous.”…

After Xi met World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Tuesday, Chinese state media initially carried video showing him telling Tedros that he “personally directed” the response to the outbreak. But later, state outlets quoted Xi saying that his administration was “collectively directing” the response…

Chinese officials may fear a political “catastrophe” if the virus were to continue spreading to major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, said Victor Shih, an expert on the Chinese political economy at the University of California at San Diego.