Top officials in China are to investigate circumstances surrounding the death of Li Wenliang, the whistleblower doctor warned by police after raising the alarm about the coronavirus outbreak, and who has now died from it.
Following an online outcry over the government’s treatment of the doctor, the ruling Communist Party said it was sending an investigation team to “fully investigate relevant issues raised by the public” over the case.
State television acknowledged that Li Wenliang’s experiences illustrated “shortcomings and deficiencies” in dealing with epidemics.
The announcement came as the death toll from the outbreak in mainland China topped 600, and almost 3,700 people on board a cruise ship remained quarantined in a Japanese port.
Li Wenliang’s death was confirmed by Wuhan Central Hospital, where he worked. It’s thought he contracted the virus while treating patients in the early days of the outbreak.
The hospital reported on its social media site that the 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 death," it added.
Other reports confirming his death also appeared in Chinese state media outlets such as the Global Times, the English-language version of Communist party outlet, People's Daily.
The reporting of Li Wenliang's death has raised concerns over Chinese censorship. Matthew Holroyd in #TheCube has been looking into the story... View his report in the video player above.
Li Wenliang issued the first warnings about the potential impact of the illness after the first cases in December and was later reprimanded by police for “posting false information on the Internet,” the Global Times reported.
Thursday brought conflicting reports over the fate of the doctor. First, Chinese media reports on Thursday said the doctor had died from the infection. But the hospital later said he lay in a critical condition with the illness and that its medical staff were trying to save him.
That post received nearly 500,000 comments in the first half-hour afterwards, with many people hoping Li would pull through.
Concern turned to anger after Li Wenliang’s death was confirmed. Chinese officials have been blamed for coronavirus deaths, and there have been calls for those who caused trouble for the doctor to face consequences.
The online comments most critical about the authorities were quickly deleted by censors.
Reprimanded by police
Li Wenliang was detained by police after warning former classmates on social media about the threat from the virus, and was reportedly one of eight doctors who were reprimanded.
In early December he wrote on his microblog account that he had seen a test sample indicating the presence of a coronavirus similar to SARS, which killed nearly 800 people in 2002-2003.
In Wuhan, local leaders were accused of telling doctors not to publicise the spreading virus, and were ordered to delete social media posts appealing for donations of medical supplies. It brought complaints that the authorities were more worried about image than public safety.
On Friday, Chinese state television said on its website that “some of Li Wenliang’s experiences during his life reflect shortcomings and deficiencies in epidemic prevention and control”.
China’s ambassador to Washington, Cui Tiankai, posted on Twitter – censored in China – to say: “Really saddened by the death of Dr. Li Wenliang. He was a very devoted doctor. We are so grateful to him for what he has done in our joint efforts fighting against #2019nCoV”.