Chinese doctor who tried to raise alarm about coronavirus dies of disease, hospital says

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Hospital - Chinese doctor who tried to raise alarm about coronavirus dies

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

A Chinese doctor who was silenced by police for attempting to share news about what turned out to be the 2019 novel coronavirus has died, hospital officials in Wuhan, China, said early Friday.

Update 4:05 p.m. EST Feb. 6: Officials at Wuhan Central Hospital confirmed in a post early Friday on Chinese social media site Weibo that Dr. Li Wenliang has died.

“Hospital ophthalmologist Li Wenliang, who was unfortunately infected during the fight against the epidemic of the new coronavirus ... died at 2:58 a.m. on February 7, 2020,” hospital officials said in the post. “We deeply regret and mourn this.”

Earlier, friends, colleagues and Chinese state media reported Li’s death, though hospital officials said in an update around 12:40 a.m. local time that he was still critically ill at the hospital.

Li is survived by his pregnant wife and a young child, according to The Washington Post.

Original report: Citing friends and colleagues of Dr. Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital, The Washington Post reported Thursday that Li had died after contracting coronavirus from one of his patients. However, hospital officials said in a post around 12:40 a.m. local time Friday on Chinese social media site Weibo that Li remained in critical condition.

"In the fight against the epidemic of the new coronavirus infection, our hospital's ophthalmologist Li Wenliang was unfortunately infected," the post said. "He is currently in critical condition and we are trying our best to rescue him.”

In a Dec. 30 post on Chinese messaging app WeChat, Li, 34, said that his hospital was dealing with seven patients connected to a seafood market who had been quarantined after suffering "a SARS-like illness," CNN reported. The post, which was shared in an alumni group for his medical school, prompted police to accuse him of rumor-mongering, according to CNN.

In early January, police compelled him to sign a statement in which he claimed his warning had been an "unfounded and illegal rumor," The New York Times reported. He has since been hailed as a hero for his attempt to bring reports of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 28,200 people globally and killed 565 others, to the public's attention.

Li told CNN he felt helpless after he was released by police.

"There was nothing I could do," he said. "(Everything) has to adhere to the official line."

Li began coughing Jan. 10 and was diagnosed Saturday as having the coronavirus infection, according to the Post. He said he quarantined himself as soon as he suspected he might be infected. Li has a pregnant wife and a young child, the Post reported.

In a statement on Weibo which was obtained by the Post, Luo Yu, who attended university with Li, said the government "owes Dr. Li Wenliang an apology."

As of Thursday, 28,060 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in China, according to the World Health Organization. In two dozen other countries, including the United States and Canada, 225 other cases have been confirmed, officials said.

In the U.S., a dozen people have been confirmed as having been infected with the coronavirus: six in California, two in Illinois, one in Massachusetts, one in Arizona, one in Washington and one in Wisconsin.

The World Health Organization has declared coronavirus a global health emergency. Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended travelers “avoid all nonessential travel to China” as the virus continues to spread.

Health officials recommend that any people who have recently traveled to Wuhan and subsequently experienced flu-like symptoms -- including fever, coughing, shortness of breath or a sore throat -- contact their health care providers.