Beijing—Li Wenliang, the doctor from Wuhan who had warned friends via a group chat in December 2019 that a new virus had emerged, died at age 34 of the Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in the early hours of Friday, Feb 7.
His death was confirmed by Wuhan Central Hospital, where he had worked and where he had been confined since he had fallen ill last month.
The hospital’s confirmation put an end to the confusion concerning Dr Li, since state media organ had first tweeted about his death around 10:40 on Thursday night, CNN reports, only to take the post down a few hours later, as other Chinese media did.
This is because Wuhan Central Hospital issued a statement saying the doctor was still alive, albeit in critical condition. The statement said attempts were being made to resuscitate him.
The World Health Organization (WHO) had also issued condolences over Dr Li’s death. However, in an update that followed, WHO stated that it did not have information about the status of Dr Li.
The hospital issued another statement on Friday morning (Feb 7), which said, “Our hospital’s ophthalmologist Li Wenliang was unfortunately infected with coronavirus during his work in the fight against the epidemic. He died at 2:58 am on Feb 7 after attempts to resuscitate were unsuccessful.”
Despite numerous measures to contain the virus, the number of people infected in China has risen to over 28,000, and had seen a growth of 15 percent from February 5 to February 6. The death toll from 2019-nCoV has risen to 565, with all deaths except two occurring in China.
Reports of Dr Li’s death sparked anger on China’s social media platforms, with posts on Weibo and others gaining thousands of views before being taken down.
On the statement from Wuhan Central Hospital announcing Dr Li’s death, netizens have been leaving heartfelt comments, such as, “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.”
Another wrote, “I knew you would post this in the middle of the night. You think we’ve all gone to sleep? No. We haven’t.”
On Dec 30, Dr Li told his medical school alumni group via WeChat about a possible new coronavirus, specifically about seven patients who were showing the same symptoms as those with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars). Authorities warned him to keep quiet when his text messages, which included his name, went viral.
He told CNN he wanted to warn his classmates to be careful after he had seen the seven patients from one of Wuhan’s seafood markets fall sick and be placed under quarantine.
While he told his classmates to warn their loved ones privately, screenshots of his messages — including his name — went viral online. According to CNN on Tuesday (Feb 4), Dr Li said: “When I saw them circulating online, I realised that it was out of my control and I would probably be punished.”
Dr Li and a number of other medical personnel were soon accused of rumor-mongering although they were trying to warn the public about the new virus.
The doctor was given a reprimand by the police some days later for “spreading rumours online” and “severely disrupting social order” in his WeChat messages. Later, he was made to sign a statement that he had committed a “misdemeanour” and that he pledged to not continue doing “unlawful acts”.
Dr Li told CNN that he was afraid he would be sent to jail. The news agency said he communicated via text, as he could not speak on the phone due to severe coughing and difficulty breathing.
After the police reprimand, the doctor went back to work at the Wuhan Central Hospital. He treated a patient on Jan 10 but did not know that the latter was already unwell with the virus. The doctor began to run a fever and started coughing a few days later. He was admitted to hospital on Jan 12. He later became so ill he had to be moved to the intensive care unit and be given oxygen.
According to the BBC on Tuesday (Feb 4), Dr Li said he was tested for the virus a number of times, all of which were negative. It added that he posted on Weibo a few days ago that: “Today nucleic acid testing came back with a positive result, the dust has settled, finally diagnosed.” -/TISG
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