A Chinese doctor who was reprimanded by security police for warning fellow doctors about the initial coronavirus outbreak has died of the illness, according to Wuhan Central Hospital.
Dr. Li Wenliang, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital, was“unfortunately infected during the fight against the pneumonia epidemic of the new coronavirus infection,” the hospital said on its social media account. “We deeply regret and mourn this.”
He died early Friday despite an “all-effort rescue” after contracting the virus Jan. 30, according to The People’s Daily, the newspaper of China’s Communist party.
The World Health Organization tweeted: “We are deeply saddened by the passing of Dr Li Wenliang. We all need to celebrate work that he did” on the virus.
In a posting on social media, Li had alerted fellow doctors on Dec. 30 about the emergence of a SARS-like illness, warning them to wear protective clothing to avoid infection, the newspaper said. Wuhan is the epicenter of the coronavirus that has claimed 565 deaths out of 28,200 cases.
Four days later, Li was summoned by local security police and forced to sign a
letter that accused him of “making false comments” that had “severely disturbed the social order.” Police said he was among eight people under investigation for “spreading rumors,” the BBC reports.
Local authorities later apologized to Li, who became a national hero as a whistleblower as the illness spread.
A top epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently told the editor of the state-owned Global Times China should praise the eight Wuhan whistleblowers.
“They were wise before the outbreak,” Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist at the CCDC, said, adding though that any judgment needs to be backed by scientific evidence.
From his hospital bed, Li broke his police-imposed silence in late January on the ordeal, telling The New York Times in an interview by text message: “If the officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier, I think it would have been a lot better. There should be more openness and transparency.”
A commentary of the social media account of the Supreme People’s Court criticized the police for their actions, saying that while the initial reports, by Li and other, about a possible SARS outbreak were wrong, they were a useful alert that should have been allowed.
“If the public listened to this ‘rumor’ at that time, and adopted measures such as wearing a mask, strict disinfection, and avoiding going to the wildlife market based on the panic about SARS, this may be a better way for us to prevent and control new pneumonia today,” the commentary said.
Contributing: Associated Press