A Wuhan hospital says a Chinese doctor who blew the whistle on the outbreak of coronavirus only to be reprimanded by police has died from the virus, amid confusion over earlier reports of his death and then resuscitation.
Li Wenliang, 34, was one of eight whistleblowers who tried to warn other medical workers of the outbreak, but was accused of spreading fake information by local police, according to the state-run Global Times newspaper.
Global Times first reported Dr Li’s death on Thursday evening, but later published a report from Wuhan Central Hospital that said his heart had stopped beating at 9:30pm (local time) and he was given resuscitation treatment and was in a critical condition.
This morning, the hospital confirmed on Chinese social media site Weibo that Dr Li had died.
“We deeply regret and mourn the death of Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist in our hospital,” the hospital said.
“He died at 2:58am on February 7, 2020, after failing to be fully rescued.”
The BBC reported that official media outlets had been told to change their earlier death reports to say the doctor was still being treated, but later reported the new time of his death on Friday.
The number of people infected globally has risen to 30,877, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins this morning.
More than 30,600 of those cases are in China.
The death toll stands at 636 worldwide — 634 of them in mainland China. The Philippines and Hong Kong have each reported one death.
Dr Li’s warnings
Dr Li sent a message to medical staff advising them to wear masks and protection to avoid infection after he noticed several patients presenting with a virus similar to the deadly SARS epidemic.
Days later, he was summoned by police and told to sign a letter that accused him of “making false comments” and spreading rumours.
He posted that letter to Weibo in late January, the BBC reported.
“We solemnly warn you: If you keep being stubborn, with such impertinence, and continue this illegal activity, you will be brought to justice — is that understood?”
Underneath, in Dr Li’s handwriting, the words “Yes, I do” are written.
Dr Li said he was diagnosed with the coronavirus on January 20.
Global Times said media reports said his pregnant wife was not in a good condition, and that Dr Li had told other media outlets that “as the coronavirus continues to spread, I don’t want to leave. I’ll work on the frontline when I recover”.
China has been accused of suppressing information about the coronavirus, including reprimanding doctors, fuelling concerns Beijing is engaging in a cover-up.
Chinese President Xi Jinping declared a “people’s war” on Thursday (local time) against the fast-spreading coronavirus whose impact has been felt around the world from slowing factory floors to quarantined cruise liners.
“The whole country has responded with all its strength to respond with the most thorough and strict prevention and control measures, starting a people’s war for epidemic prevention and control,” Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying in a telephone call with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman.
Health officials in the United States and China want to get a vaccine to initial human testing within months, but drugmakers have cautioned they have a long way to go.
“There are no known effective therapeutics,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said, when asked about reports of “breakthroughs” that boosted markets on Wednesday (local time).
China’s National Health Commission said the HIV drug lopinavir/ritonavir could be used for coronavirus patients, without specifying how. That triggered a rush for the HIV drug.
‘National grief’ over doctor’s death
The initial reports of Dr Li’s death triggered a huge response on Chinese social media.
“Hero RIP” posted one user named Godfrey on Weibo.
“May there be no lies in heaven, RIP,” a user named Weichujidemeng wrote.
“This is a big moment in China. I’ve never seen so much raw emotion on WeChat from so many,” posted S_Rabinovictch on Twitter.
“An outpouring of grief over the death of Li Wenliang and tributes to his courage, mixed with seething anger at what can only be described as the system.”
The People’s Daily sent out a tweet saying Dr Li’s death had sparked “national grief” and Global Times praised Dr Li as “the first to sound the alarm”.
But at the beginning of the outbreak, Chinese media had quoted police saying he was spreading misinformation.
“I’m really starting to be disappointed with the country,” user Xiaosahnyang said.
“The state media have lost their credibility once again, and freedom of speech does not exist.”
By mid-morning on Friday, many posts relating to Dr Li’s death were censored on Chinese social media, but tributes continued to circulate on Twitter.
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Sadness and anger over his death were also felt by members of the Chinese community in Australia.
“I couldn’t sleep last night. I was extremely sad watching the news,” Gilbert Li, a Sydney resident who was originally from Hubei — the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak — told the ABC.
“I’m angry that the outbreak could’ve been curbed from the start when he spoke out.”