The Chinese doctor, Li Wenliang, who sounded warning on Coronavirus has died on Friday in China from the deadly virus.
The death of doctor Li Wenliang widely regarded as a hero in China for blowing the whistle on the threat posed by the Wuhan coronavirus has led to a massive outpouring of grief and anger online.
Li Wenliang died of the virus in the early hours of Friday morning local time, Wuhan Central Hospital, where he worked, said in a statement.
The confirmation follows a series of conflicting statements about his condition from the hospital and Chinese state media outlets.
“Our hospital’s ophthalmologist Li Wenliang was unfortunately infected with coronavirus during his work in the fight against the coronavirus epidemic,” the hospital said.
“He died at 2:58 am on Feb 7 after attempts to resuscitate were unsuccessful.”
Li was among a number of supposed “rumourmongers” detained in December for spreading news about the virus.
He had warned about a potential “SARS-like” virus spreading in Wuhan. Nothing Li said was incorrect, but it came as officials in the city were downplaying the severity of the outbreak and its risk to the public.
“A new coronavirus infection has been confirmed and its type is being identified. Inform all family and relatives to be on guard,” Li Wenliang typed into a chat group with his former medical school classmates on Dec. 30, according to Caixin, a Beijing-based media group.
Soon, Li’s message would resonate much farther. As the spiralling crisis emerged, he came to be known as the whistleblower of a virus that ultimately took his life.
Not everyone appreciated Li’s bombshell warnings. After he shared information about the strange infections he was seeing, he was reprimanded by local authorities for “making untrue comments” and “severely disturbing social order.”
His messages about a SARS-like infection conveyed an urgency that undercut the official efforts to downplay the epidemic and its risk to the public. At the time, Wuhan’s health bureau said there was no evidence of spread between humans.
And yet Li was not dissuaded. He shared his ordeal online and carried out interviews with journalists through text message, conveying a picture of incompetence and mishandling of the virus at the crucial, initial stage of the outbreak. His insistence on speaking out defied a political system that does not tolerate dissent.
The infection turned out not to be SARS, but 2019-nCov—a coronavirus in the same deadly family. And in January, Li himself succumbed. He was reportedly diagnosed with the coronavirus after treating an infected glaucoma patient.
The disease has now radiated throughout China and beyond, causing a total of 31,388 infections globally, according to Johns Hopkins University’s virus tracker. At least 636 people within China have died, including now, Li himself.
His condition deteriorated and he was pulled off life support in the early hours of Friday, according to the hospital where he worked.
One doctor in Li’s chat group said they had always known him to have good judgment, according to one local media outlet. Many started stocking up on surgical masks and wearing other protective gear at work because of his warning. “He really saved a lot of people,” the doctor said.
On Weibo, netizens grieved Li’s death and hailed him as a martyr for China’s fight against the coronavirus. “An eternal hero,” one user commented. Another said, “He was so young, this shouldn’t have happened.”
The mayor of Wuhan later admitted to mishandling the crisis, and not releasing information quickly enough.
On Jan. 28, roughly two months into the outbreak, China’s top court rebuked Wuhan police for punishing eight people, including Li, for “spreading rumours.” The attention made Li into a household name.
Online, on China’s tightly controlled social media platforms, many users openly praised Li and said he did the right thing.
But even as his battle to inform the public seemingly succeeded, Li’s battle with the disease took a turn for the worse.
On his Weibo page, Li said he was hospitalized on Jan. 12 after experiencing coughing and fever. He was later moved to the intensive care unit.
On Feb. 1, he shared the results of his test on Weibo: “Today my test has come back positive, the dust has settled, I have finally been diagnosed.” It was his last post.
There were more apparent efforts to control the narrative even after Li’s death — leading to widespread anger.
Earlier on Thursday night, several state media outlets had reported Li’s death, following which Chinese social media erupted in mourning.
Hours of confusion followed, with Wuhan Central Hospital releasing a statement saying Li was still alive and in critical condition, adding that they were “making attempts to resuscitate him.”
State media subsequently deleted their previous tweets, only for the hospital to then confirm his death.
Li had raised the alarm about the virus that ultimately took his life.
In December, he posted in his medical school alumni group on the Chinese messaging app WeChat that seven patients from a local seafood market had been diagnosed with a SARS-like illness and were quarantined in his hospital in Wuhan.
Soon after he posted the message, Li was accused of rumour-mongering by the Wuhan police.
He was one of several medics targeted by police for trying to blow the whistle on the deadly virus in the early weeks of the outbreak, which has sickened more than 28,000 people and killed more than 560. He later contracted the virus himself.
Li was hospitalized on January 12 and tested positive for the coronavirus on February 1.
Fury on social media
China’s social media channels were awash with anger following news of Li’s death.
The topics “Wuhan government owes Dr Li Wenliang an apology,” and “We want freedom of speech,” soon began to trend on China’s Twitter-like platform, Weibo. Each gained tens of thousands of views before disappearing from the heavily censored platform.
Another topic, called “I want freedom of speech,” had drawn 1.8 million views as of 5 a.m. Friday morning local time (4 p.m. ET Thursday).
Top comments under the Wuhan Central Hospital’s statement about Li’s death included “I’ve learned two words: political rescue & performative rescue” and “Countless young people will mature overnight after today: the world is not as beautiful as we imagined. Are you angry?
If any of us here is fortunate enough to speak up for the public in the future, please make sure you remember tonight’s anger.”
Several comments also marked the timing of the announcement. “I knew you would post this in the middle of the night,” wrote one Weibo user.
“You think we’ve all gone to sleep? No. We haven’t,” said another.
Confusion over his condition
The Global Times first announced Li had died in a tweet at around 10:40 p.m. local time Thursday, linking to a report that cited friends and doctors at Wuhan Central Hospital.
It deleted the post several hours later. Other Chinese media outlets also deleted their reports of his death, without explanation.
The World Health Organization released a message of condolence following the initial reports that Li was dead but later updated their statement to say they did not have any information about the doctor’s status.
Wuhan Central Hospital issued a new statement confirming his death later that day.
The death toll and number of people infected by the Wuhan coronavirus continues to grow, with no signs of slowing despite severe quarantine and population control methods put in place in central China.
The number of confirmed cases globally stood at 28,275 as of Thursday, with more than 28,000 of those in China. The number of cases in China grew by 3,694, or 15%, on the previous day.
There have been 565 deaths so far, all but two of which were in China, with one in the Philippines and one in Hong Kong.