A Chinese doctor who got in trouble with authorities for sounding an early warning about the deadly coronavirus outbreak has died, following a day of confusion about his condition.
The Wuhan Central Hospital said on its social media account that Dr Li Wenliang, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist, was “unfortunately infected during the fight against the pneumonia epidemic of the new coronavirus infection.”
“We deeply regret and mourn this,” it added.
Earlier, the hospital said he was in a critical condition, despite other Chinese media reporting said the 34-year-old had died.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Dr Li Wenliang. We all need to celebrate work that he did on the virus,” the World Health Organisation tweeted.
Li was reprimanded by local police for “spreading rumours” about the illness in late December, according to news reports.
The outbreak, centred in Wuhan, has now infected over 28,200 people globally and killed more than 560.
Within a half-hour of announcing earlier on Friday that Li was in critical condition, the hospital received nearly 500,000 comments on its social media post, many of them from people hoping Li would pull through. One wrote: “We are not going to bed. We are here waiting for a miracle.”
Li was among a number of medical professionals in Wuhan who tried to warn colleagues and others when the government did not, The New York Times reported earlier this week.
It said that after the mystery illness had stricken seven patients at a hospital, Li said of them in an online chat group December 30: “Quarantined in the emergency department.”
Another participant in the chat responded by wondering, “Is SARS coming again?” — a reference to the 2002-03 viral outbreak that killed hundreds, the newspaper said.
Wuhan health officials summoned Li in the middle of the night to explain why he shared the information, and police later forced him to sign a statement admitting to “illegal behaviour,” the Times said.
“If the officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier,” Li said in an interview in the Times via text messages, “I think it would have been a lot better. There should be more openness and transparency.”
Meanwhile, a newborn became the youngest known person infected with the virus.
China finished building a second new hospital yesterday to isolate and treat patients and moved people with milder symptoms into makeshift quarantine centres at sports arenas, exhibition halls and other public spaces. And testing of a new antiviral drug was set to begin on patients.