Coronavirus outbreak: Chinese doc who was slammed for blowing the whistle on 'SARS-like' disease in December dies

Dr Li Wenliang, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist who worked at the Wuhan Central Hospital, contracted the virus during his work in the fight against the epidemic


                            Coronavirus outbreak: Chinese doc who was slammed for blowing the whistle on 'SARS-like' disease in December dies
(Chinatopix via AP)

The coronavirus has killed a Chinese doctor, who was among the first few to break the news of the outbreak in its early stages. This move drew the ire of Chinese health officials, who then accused him of spreading rumors.

The doctor named Li Wenliang, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist who worked at the Wuhan Central Hospital, contracted the virus during his work in the fight against the coronavirus epidemic, the hospital said. "He died at 2.58 am on February 7 after attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful."

The World Health Organization (WHO) tweeted: “We are deeply saddened by the passing of Dr Li Wenliang. We all need to celebrate his work."

The doctor is believed to have contracted the virus while treating patients. He began showing symptoms of cough and fever on January 10 and was diagnosed with the infection on January 30, according to reports.

In December 2019,  Li had shared information about a potential "SARS-like" disease on his WeChat group. Following this, Chinese officials accused the doctor of "spreading rumors" that had "severely disturbed the social order".

After asking for an explanation for his actions, the police allegedly forced him to sign a statement admitting to "illegal behavior," the New York Times reported.

Li has been vocal about his criticisms on China's initial response. "If the officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier," Li said in an interview in the Times via text messages.

"I think it would have been a lot better. There should be more openness and transparency," Li shared. On December 30, he sent a message to fellow doctors in a chat group warning them to wear protective clothing to avoid infection.

A medical worker in a protective suit looks at patients who diagnosed with the coronaviruses arrive at a temporary hospital (Chinatopix via AP)

Conflicting reports on his death

Dr Li was being treated at the Wuhan Central Hospital. But on Thursday, multiple state media outlets including Global Times and People's Daily, the ruling Communist Party's official newspaper, had declared Li dead. The Global Times also took to Twitter where they announced his death at around 10.40 pm local time Thursday. 

These reports created a huge uproar over social media. On China's Twitter-like platform, Weibo, posts on "Wuhan government owes Dr. Li Wenliang an apology," and "We want the freedom of speech," began to catch on, before disappearing from the heavily censored platform.

Later, official media outlets retracted their statements saying that the doctor was still undergoing treatment. 

However, the Wuhan Central Hospital later confirmed that Li died in the wee hours of Friday morning. "We deeply regret and mourn this," it said in its social media account.

This left many distraught. As many as 500,000 people left comments on the hospital's social media post, of which one user wrote: "We are not going to bed. We are here waiting for a miracle."

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