7 Feb 2020

Coronavirus: Chinese media confusion over doctor's death

10:52 am on 7 February 2020

A Chinese doctor who tried to issue the first warnings about the deadly coronavirus outbreak has died, the hospital treating him has said.

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Li Wenliang, who posted an image of himself in his hospital bed on Facebook, was visited by police when he first alerted other doctors to the coronavirus. Photo: Facebook / Li Wenliang

Li Wenliang contracted the virus while working as an ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital.

He had sent out a warning to fellow medics on 30 December but police told him to stop "making false comments".

There had been contradictory reports about his death, but the People's Daily now says he died at 2:58am today (Chinese time).

The virus has killed more than 560 people and infected 28,000 in China.

The coronavirus causes severe acute respiratory infection and symptoms usually start with a fever, followed by a dry cough. Most people infected are likely to fully recover - just as they would from a flu.

Confusion over doctor's fate

Global Times, People's Daily and other Chinese media had reported Dr Li's death earlier on Thursday.

Dr Li, 34, was initially declared dead at 9.30pm local time and the news triggered a huge wave of popular reaction on Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter.

The People's Daily sent out a tweet saying Dr Li's death had sparked "national grief".

However, Global Times then said he had been given a treatment known as ECMO (extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation) which keeps a person's heart pumping and keeps their blood oxygenated without it going through their lungs.

Global Times said he was in a critical condition.

Journalists and doctors at the scene, who do not want their names used, told the BBC and other media that government officials had intervened.

Official media outlets had been told to change their reports to say the doctor was still being treated.

The media outlets then later reported the new time of Dr Li's death.

Chastised for 'spreading rumours'

The ophthalmologist posted his story on the Weibo site from a hospital bed a month after sending out his initial warning.

Dr Li, 34, had noticed seven cases of a virus that he thought looked like Sars - the virus that led to a global epidemic in 2003.

On 30 December he sent a message to fellow doctors in a chat group warning them to wear protective clothing to avoid infection.

Four days later he was summoned to the Public Security Bureau where he was told to sign a letter. In the letter he was accused of "making false comments" that had "severely disturbed the social order".

He was one of eight people who police said were being investigated for "spreading rumours".

Local authorities later apologised to Dr Li.

In his Weibo post he describes how on 10 January he started coughing, the next day he had a fever and two days later he was in hospital. He was diagnosed with the coronavirus on 30 January.

Most of the coronavirus victims have been over the age of 60 or suffered from other medical conditions, according to China's health authorities. Dr Li's medical history is not known.

More measures introduced in China

China is introducing more restrictive measures to try to control the outbreak.

Beijing has banned group dining for events such as birthdays and weddings while cities such as Hangzhou and Nanchang are limiting how many family members can leave home each day.

Hubei province, the worst hit by the virus, has switched off lifts in high-rise buildings to discourage residents from going outside.

Its capital, Wuhan, has a shortage of beds and equipment, one senior city official said. Despite the rapid construction of two hospitals, the volume of patients is causing severe strain.

(200206) -- WUHAN, Feb. 6, 2020 (Xinhua) -- Doctors speak with cured novel coronavirus pneumonia patients in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, Feb. 6, 2020.

Doctors speak with cured novel coronavirus patients in Wuhan, in Hubei Province in China. Photo: AFP

Reports on social media say the Wuhan government is to carry out door-to-door temperature checks on residents.

The city of Dali in Yunnan province was accused of requisitioning a shipment of masks bound for Chongqing. Dali's government said it could not do anything as the boxes had already been distributed.

The cities of Qingdao and Shenyang also reportedly squabbled over a medical shipment.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong has seen panic buying of goods, including toilet rolls, and there have been huge queues for masks.

What has the response been to the crackdowns?

Human Rights Watch has criticised the crackdowns saying China was "treating public health with a sledgehammer".

Executive director Kenneth Roth said China had suppressed reports in the early days of the outbreak and clamped down on criticism of its handling of the crisis.

"There's no place for secrecy in fighting an epidemic," he said.

Although he praised Beijing for quickly sharing the DNA sequence of the virus, he attacked the lockdowns policy.

"Quarantines of this sort typically don't work. Quarantines, the kind that public health officials advocate, are much more targeted. They're aimed at people who have been identified as having the virus," he said.

Roth said there were "huge gaps" in getting people fed, housed and treated.

Chinese officials have strongly defended their approach.

The latest figure to speak out was the Chinese ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, who said the government was doing everything it could to control, prevent and cure the coronavirus.

But he also said the UK had overreacted by advising an estimated 30,000 British nationals in China to leave and that there had been discrimination against Chinese nationals in the UK.

What's the latest on infections?

Although the virus has spread overseas, with confirmed infection in some 25 nations, there have so far been only two deaths outside mainland China - one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines.

The World Health Organisation has declared a global health emergency, saying if funds are not allocated now to tackle the outbreak, nations would pay for it later.

Although the official figures in China are of 28,000 infections, some scientists have estimated that the actual rate could be 10 times higher, with the majority of infected people only presenting mild symptoms, not receiving treatment, yet passing on the potentially deadly disease.

The UK on Thursday confirmed a third case of the virus.

Some 3700 people on the Diamond Princess cruise vessel] moored off Japan face testing and quarantine for at least two weeks. It has 20 virus cases including one New Zealander.

Another cruise ship with 3600 passengers and crew is quarantined in Hong Kong with three cases on board.

The Diamond Princess cruise ship (top,C) is seen off the port of Yokohama on February 5, 2020. - At least 10 people on a cruise ship quarantined off the coast of Japan have tested positive for the new coronavirus, Japan's health minister said on February 5.

The Diamond Princess cruise ship is seen off the port of Yokohama. A New Zealander on board has been confirmed as the country's first case of coronavirus. Photo: Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP


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