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Our coverage on COVID‑19

Once accused of spreading fake news, doctor who raised early alarm over Wuhan virus dies

Not all heroes wear capes.

A doctor working at the Wuhan Central Hospital, Dr Li Wenliang, reportedly succumbed to the novel coronavirus during the early hours of Friday morning (local time) in Wuhan. According to a statement from the hospital, the Li died at 2:58 am local time on February the 7:

“Our hospital’s ophthalmologist Li Wenliang was unfortunately infected with coronavirus during his work in the fight against the coronavirus epidemic. He died at 2:58 am on Feb 7 after attempts to resuscitate were unsuccessful.”

The confirmation came after several contradictory statements about his status from multiple Chinese media outlets, with earlier reports of Li’s passing deleted and the Wuhan Central Hospital sharing that Li was still alive, although he was in critical condition. Li had contracted the virus while in the line of duty, with the doctor sending out a warning over WeChat to fellow medics—but instead of taking heed, the local authorities reprimanded him for “making false comments”.

The whistleblower of Wuhan

In December of last year, the doctor shared the warning over WeChat on his medical school alumni group after 7 people in the local market had been diagnosed with a “SARS-like” virus and quarantined in the Wuhan Central hospital. However, Li was then targeted by the police—along with other medical professionals—for trying to alert the community to the virus.

The Public Security Bureau made Li sign a letter on January the 3rd, accusing the doctor of disturbing the peace by “making false comments”. The doctor’s Weibo post also reveals that he started coughing on the 10th of January, with a fever developing on the 11th of January.

On the 12th of January, the whistleblower of Wuhan was hospitalised himself, and tested positive for the Wuhan novel coronavirus on the 1st of February. 6 days later, sadly, the doctor succumbed to the virus. As a result, the sympathetic response from the public has also been accompanied by a general outcry over the Chinese authorities’ handling of the doctor’s initial warning.

On Weibo, trending topics included “Wuhan government owes Dr Li Wenliang an apology” and “freedom of speech”, although these topics also regularly disappear before too long (China has long faced questions over its censorship practices). In general, many called for more freedom of speech, with many expressing anger at government’s alleged silencing of the doctor.

The number of confirmed cases has risen to over 28,000 patients, with the vast majority of confirmed cases from China. 565 deaths from the coronavirus have been confirmed, with only two cases outside of China: Hong Kong and the Philippines. Meanwhile, the U.S. has stopped foreign visitors who have been to China in the past 14 days from entering the country, and travel restrictions have been implemented by multiple airlines, with the outbreak continuing to spread.

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