China may postpone its annual session of parliament, state media said Monday, as the country battles to control the outbreak of a deadly new coronavirus.
The nation’s ruling council will “deliberate a draft decision” to delay the ten-day National People’s Congress (NPC), news agency Xinhua said ahead of the scheduled start on March 5.
The top legislative session has been held every March for the past 35 years but the timing is in doubt this year after more than 70,000 people have become infected by the virus across China.
Believed to have originated in central Hubei province, the illness has spread across the nation and to other countries.
It has claimed more than 1,770 lives and prompted the closure of schools, entertainment venues and cancellation of large-scale events.
Zang Tiewei, a spokesman for the legislative affairs commission of the NPC Standing Committee, China’s top legislative body, told Xinhua the country is at a “critical stage” in containing the epidemic.
A third of the roughly 3,000 representatives set to attend the NPC are “leading officials at the provincial and municipal levels” fighting on the front lines of the outbreak, Zang said.
To ensure “attention is focused on the prevention and control of the epidemic”, delaying the yearly political event is “considered necessary”, he added.
But the change will be subject to a decision by the Standing Committee next week.
Xinhua said the committee’s elite 25-member Politburo, China’s top decision-making body, will meet on Monday to make a call.
It will also review a decision by authorities to ban the country’s “illegal wildlife trade and eliminate the bad habit of eating wild animals to guarantee people’s lives, health and safety”, Xinhua added.
The virus is believed to have come from a market selling wild animals in Wuhan, Hubei’s capital, before spreading between humans.