BEIJING—As China prepared to battle the coronavirus disease, President Xi Jinping ordered state-owned companies to step up “unconditionally, and at any cost,” according to officials briefed on the late January directive.

At the center of the outbreak in Wuhan, China State Construction Engineering Corp. conjured up more than 20,000 construction workers, engineers and others to build two hospitals. Other state enterprises provided power and construction materials. Within about 10 days, a 1,000-bed hospital and a 1,600-bed facility…

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