The Chinese doctor who first warned his government of the coronavirus outbreak by chat talk on WeChat app but had his claims dismissed has now died of the virus.
Li Wenliang, who had first shared suspicion of a Sars-like illness spreading in Wuhan, died on Thursday after he was infected by the coronavirus by coming in contact of coronavirus patient.
34-year-old Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at the Wuhan Central Hospital, first told his friends about a viral infection spreading through the district via private messages as early as December 30.
He was the first to report about the virus way back in December last year when it first emerged in Wuhan, the provincial capital of China’s central Hubei province.
He had told other doctors through a chat on the Chinese messaging app WeChat that seven patients admitted in his hospital were exhibiting Sars-like symptoms. The ophthalmologist said all seven patients had eaten animal meat from the same seafood market in Hubei.
Li explained that, according to a test he had seen, the illness was a coronavirus – a large family of viruses that includes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) which led to 800 death in China and the world in 2003.
Li’s message was meant to be a cautionary note for his medical school friends to take care of their loved ones. But within hours of Wenliang revealing the information, the chats spread like wildfire on Chinese social media.
On January 3, Chinese authorities summoned Li and seven other doctors and accused them of spreading rumours. A stern message calling for an end to rumour-mongering was broadcast across China.
“The police call on all netizens to not fabricate rumours, not spread rumours, not believe rumours,” the message read.
Li was made to sign an affidavit acknowledging his crime and had to promise he will not engage in any such activities in the future.
The ophthalmologist returned to work soon. While treating a patient affected with coronavirus, the infection was also transmitted to Li. Over the coming days, he showed the same symptoms — coughing, shortness of breath and fever.
By January 12, he was admitted to a hospital. His condition continued to deteriorate and he had to be shifted to the ICU.
It was not till January 20 that China would take stock of the spread of coronavirus and declare a national emergency. On the same day, Chinese President Xi Jinping said, “People’s lives and health should be given top priority and the spread of the outbreak should be resolutely curbed.”
Li’s diagnosis of coronavirus was only confirmed on February 1. He died five days later.
Authorities in Wuhan have already been criticized online for withholding information about the infection until the end of last year, despite knowing about the new illness weeks earlier.
Overall 564 people have died in China due to the virus and 28,018 confirmed cases have been reported from 31 provincial-level regions, the National Health Commission reported on Thursday.