Li Wenliang was arrested by Wuhan police for rumors and then released on January 3 after signing a document acknowledging that he had committed “illegal acts”.
(Bloomberg) – A Chinese doctor, Li Wenliang, who was reprimanded by the police after warning his colleagues of a new respiratory disease that is emerging in Wuhan, died after falling ill, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Li, an ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital, had been hospitalized in early January and then confirmed that he had coronavirus, according to a publication in his social media account. The exact cause of death was not immediately known.
On December 30, he published in a social media group about a SARS-like illness on the same day that Chinese authorities confirmed that they were investigating 27 viral pneumonia cases. Officials from the epicenter of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province, where millions of people are trapped in unprecedented confinement, sent an “urgent notice” to all hospitals about “unclear cause pneumonia”.
The notice ordered all departments to immediately compile information on known cases and report them on their chain of command. But he didn’t mention SARS or a coronavirus.
Li had published a fragment of an RNA analysis that found “SARS coronavirus” and large colonies of bacteria in a patient’s airway, according to a chat transcript that he and other chat members later shared online. The doctor said seven people appeared to have contracted SARS, the respiratory disease that spread from China to over two dozen countries and left hundreds of dead in the early 2000s. One patient was quarantined in his hospital in Wuhan, Li said. He invited people to be careful.
On January 1, the Wuhan Public Security Bureau issued a subpoena to Li and the others accused of fanning the rumors. The arrests were reported in “Xinwen Lianbo”, a news broadcast watched by tens of millions.
Police followed the state-run Xinhua news agency with a chilling warning. “The police urge all Internet users not to make rumors, not to spread rumors, not to create rumors,” said Wuhan authorities, adding that they encouraged web users to “build a harmonious, obviously. Bright cyberspace together.” “.
As the authorities took strong measures, the epidemic was rapidly worsening amid an information vacuum. Wang Guangbao, a surgeon and popular science writer in eastern China, later said speculation about a SARS-like virus was rampant around January 1 in medical circles, but the arrests deterred many, including himself. , to speak openly about the topic.
“The eight posters that were seized made all the doctors feel that we were at risk,” he said.
Li was released by Wuhan police on January 3 after signing a document acknowledging that he had committed “illegal acts”. The doctor, who did not immediately respond to the Washington Post on Tuesday, later explained to CNN that his family would “worry about the disease”. him “if I lose my freedom for a few days”. CNN reported that it had managed to leave the police station in about an hour.
He hurried to work to see sick patients and for a while he worked “normally”, wrote on Weibo, treating patients with the new coronavirus.
So on January 10, he had a cough. The following day the cough had turned into a fever and on January 12 Li had been hospitalized. The tests for the virus he was analyzing were negative, but it was difficult to breathe and move.
At that time, China had not yet declared an emergency. This would happen on January 20, as over 400 million Chinese were preparing to return home to celebrate the lunar new year. A well-known pulmonologist appeared in the state media to announce that the new virus was transmissible among people, and Chinese President Xi Jinping asked that the information be shared quickly and “certain efforts” were made to contain the virus.
Within days, all of Wuhan and several nearby cities, an area the size of Washington state with over 50 million people, were blocked. Authorities have worked to accommodate a large number of patients, working to erect entire new hospitals.
In late January, officials also recognized errors.
The Supreme People’s Court reprimanded the police for punishing Li and his medical colleagues. The next day, Wuhan police said that the eight people summoned had committed only minor offenses, disseminating “unverified information”.
Officials gave “education and criticism” and did not sanction or detain people, police said.
Li, who pointed out that his license has not been revoked, said he was applauded in the hospital for “supporting and encouraging Internet users.” His latest publication on Weibo, the February 1 announcement of the latest test results, drew tens of thousands of comments
“Dr. Li, you are a good doctor with conscience,” read a supporter’s message with over 100,000 votes in favor. Another person counted Li among eight “prophets”. “People across the country sympathize with you,” said the commentator.
Death was previously reported by the Global Times, a Chinese state-run media organization and other Chinese media. A person familiar with the situation confirmed Li’s death in Bloomberg.
“We are very sorry for the loss of a person on the front line,” said Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s Emergency Emergencies Program, during a press conference in Geneva. “We will regret his death with our colleagues.”