The death of a doctor 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 “rumormongers” 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.
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 rumor-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.