On December 31, Wuhan authorities announced the outbreak and informed the World Health Organization
A Chinese doctor who was silenced by police for warning about the coronavirus outbreak has been diagnosed with the disease.
Li Wenliang, 34, posted a warning in his medical school alumni group on the WeChat app that seven people from a seafood market in Wuhan had been quarantined in his hospital with a SARS-like illness, according to CNN.
Evoking memories of the SARS epidemic that claimed hundreds of lives amid a government cover-up in 2003, Li said: “I only wanted to remind my university classmates to be careful.”
But within hours of what the ophthalmologist intended to be a private alert, screenshots of his messages had gone viral — exposing him as a whistleblower, reports New York Post.
“When I saw them circulating online, I realized that it was out of my control and I would probably be punished,” Li, whom police had accused of rumor mongering, reported New York Post citing CNN from his intensive care bed after being diagnosed on Saturday.
On the day that Li messaged his friends, Wuhan health officials informed medical facilities in the epicenter city that several patients from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market had contracted an “unknown pneumonia.”
Any organizations or individuals are not allowed to release treatment information to the public without authorization,” the city’s Health Commission warned.
On December 31, Wuhan authorities announced the outbreak and informed the World Health Organization.
Three days later, Li was chided by police for “spreading rumors online” and “severely disrupting social order” — and forced to sign a statement admitting his “misdemeanor” and promising not to commit additional “unlawful acts,” CNN reported.
On January 10, after unwittingly treating a patient infected with the coronavirus, Li began coughing, developed a fever the next day and was hospitalized the day after that.
His condition deteriorated so much that he was admitted to the intensive care unit and given oxygen support. On Saturday, he tested positive for the virus.
Amid a public furor, China’s Supreme Court on January 28 slammed Wuhan police for punishing the “rumormongers.”
“It might have been a fortunate thing for containing the new coronavirus, if the public had listened to this ‘rumor’ at the time, and adopted measures such as wearing masks, strict disinfection and avoiding going to the wildlife market,” the Supreme Court said.
The Wuhan police then issued a statement saying eight people had only committed “particularly minor” offenses for spreading “unverified information.”