A Chinese doctor who tried to issue the first warning about the fatal coronavirus outbreak died, said the hospital that was treating him.
Li Wenliang contracted the virus while working at Wuhan Central Hospital.
He had sent a warning to his medical colleagues on December 30, but the police had told him to stop “making false comments”.
There has been mixed news about his death, but the People’s Daily now says he died at 02:58 on Friday (18:58 GMT on Thursday).
The virus killed 636 people and infected 31,161 in mainland China, according to the latest data from the National Health Commission.
The death toll includes 73 new deaths reported on Thursday.
The virus causes a severe acute respiratory infection and symptoms usually start with a fever, followed by a dry cough.
Most infected people are likely to recover completely, just as they would with a flu.
What is Li Wenliang’s story?
Dr. Li, an ophthalmologist, published his story on Weibo from a hospital bed a month after sending his initial warning.
The 34-year-old man had noticed seven cases of a virus he thought resembled Sars, the virus that caused a worldwide epidemic in 2003.
On December 30, he sent a message to other doctors in a chat group advising them to wear protective clothing to prevent infections.
Four days later he was summoned to the public security office, where he was told to sign a letter. In the letter he was accused of “making false comments” which had “seriously disturbed the social order”.
He was one of eight people who, according to the police, were being investigated for “spreading rumors”. The local authorities therefore apologized to Dr. Li.
In his Weibo publication, he describes how he started coughing on January 10, the day after he had a fever and two days later he was in the hospital. He was diagnosed with coronavirus on January 30th.
How has China reacted?
A wave of anger and pain flooded the Chinese social media site Weibo when news of Dr. Li’s death broke out Thursday night.
The two most popular hashtags on the website were “The Wuhan government owes Dr. Li Wenliang and his apologies” and “We want freedom of expression.”
Both hashtags were quickly censored. When the BBC searched Weibo on Friday morning, hundreds of thousands of comments had already been deleted.
Many have now started posting under the hashtag “Can you handle it, understand?” – A reference to the letter to Dr. Li was told to sign where he was accused of disturbing the “social order”.
Only a few critical comments remain, many of which do not name him directly, but are an indication of the growing anger and distrust of the Chinese government.
“Do not forget how you feel now. Do not forget this anger. We must not allow this to happen again,” said a comment on Weibo.
“The truth will always be treated as a rumor. How long are you going to lie? Are you still lying? What else do you have to hide?” Another said.