Doctor Li Weliang, one of the eight whistle blowers who warned other medics of the coronavirus outbreak in China’s Wuhan City but was accused of rumour-mongering, died after being infected with the virus on Thursday. Subsequently, China’s anti-graft watchdog announced a probe into his demise on Friday amid an outpouring grief across the world.
Li, 34, was the first to report about the virus back in December last year when it emerged in Wuhan. He dropped a bombshell in his medical school alumni group on the popular Chinese messaging app WeChat that seven patients from a local seafood market had been diagnosed with a SARS-like illness and quarantined in his hospital.
Soon after he posted the message, Li was accused of rumour-mongering by the Wuhan police. He was one of the several medics targeted by the police for trying to blow the whistle on the deadly virus in the early weeks of the outbreak. Meanwhile, the death toll due to the virus outbreak in China rose to 636 on Friday (February 7).
China’s ruling Communist Party has sent a high-level investigation team to the epidemic-hit Wuhan city in Central Hubei province to probe Li Wenliang’s death. A special team will head to Wuhan to investigate issues regarding Li, state-run People’s Daily quoted China’s top anti-corruption agency as saying on Friday.
The action has been approved by the central government and the team will have a comprehensive investigation into matters related to the deceased doctor, China’s National Supervisory Commission said in a statement. Li’s death has been mourned by the National Health Commission.
The police reaction in stifling his warning of coronavirus which now has become a national and international disaster has evoked public resentment. “After emergency treatment, Li Wenliang passed away. We deeply regret and mourn Li’s death,” the Central Hospital of Wuhan announced on Thursday.
The doctor’s death triggered an outpouring of millions of comments on China’s social media sites as well as concerns from the international community. “We are deeply saddened by the passing of Dr Li Wenliang. We all need to celebrate work that he did on 2019nCoV,” the World Health Organization (WHO) tweeted.
As per his post on Weibo on December 30, Li, an ophthalmologist at the Central Hospital of Wuhan, warned in the online chat group WeChat that he had seen a report that showed positive test results of SARS for seven patients. On January 3, Li and the seven others were summoned by police for “spreading fake information on the internet”, reports said.
They were reprimanded but not fined or detained, it quoted police as saying. Li continued his normal work at the Wuhan hospital until January 10 when he came down with cough and fever, symptoms of the coronavirus. “I was finally confirmed as being infected by the novel coronavirus,” Li wrote on February 1 on Weibo, adding a dog emoji.
The post got more than 1.6 million thumbs-ups and over 400,000 netizens expressed their best wishes for him. On Thursday evening, several Weibo posts said Li had died from the novel coronavirus and the updates went viral on social media, sparking immense sorrow and outrage among netizens.
Significantly, during midnight the Central Hospital of Wuhan denied Li had died, saying he was critical and under emergency treatment. The post soon attracted millions of netizens to pray for the doctor. “I won’t sleep tonight!!! Wait for a miracle online!” said one comment that received 350,000 thumbs-up.
A top epidemiologist at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC) told state-run Global Times that “we should highly praise the eight Wuhan residents”. “They were wise before the outbreak,” Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist at the CCDC, said, adding that any judgment, though, needs to be backed by scientific evidence.
(With inputs from agencies)