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Whistleblower Chinese doctor dies from coronavirus in Wuhan

February 2020 theGuardian; A whistleblowing Chinese doctor, who was among the first to raise concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus in Wuhan, has died from the disease.

Li Wenliang, 34, had been targeted by Chinese police for “spreading rumours” after posting a warning on social media in late December 2019 about a cluster of cases of a flu-like disease that had been treated at his hospital.

Seven patients were in quarantine and the disease symptoms reminded him of Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome). He urged colleagues to wear protective clothing at work.

Four days later he was summoned to the local public security bureau, accused of “making false comments” and disturbing the social order. He was told that if he continued to talk about the disease, he would be “brought to justice”.

Li was one of eight people targeted by authorities for “sharing false information”, in a heavy-handed approach that was later criticised by China’s supreme court. He agreed not to discuss his concerns in public again.

But in early January he treated a woman with glaucoma without realising she was also a coronavirus patient; he appears to have been infected during the operation.

On the 10 January, when China was still insisting there had been no new cases for a week, he started coughing then developed a fever. Two days later he was in hospital; his parents also fell ill.

The Global Times, a state-owned tabloid newspaper, tweetedon Thursday that Li had died from the virus nearly a month after he fell ill.

Before he died, Li, who had a child and was expecting a second this summer, had broken his silence to give interviews from his hospital bed.

“If the officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier, I think it would have been a lot better. There should be more openness and transparency,” he told the New York Times.

Li’s relative youth and the slow development of his infection may add to medical concerns about the fatality of the coronavirus.

Most of the dead have been older, with underlying health conditions. It is not clear whether Li had any previous health problems.

Li’s fate has echoes of Carlo Urbani, an Italian doctor who played a crucial role in identifying Sars and raising the international alarm but was eventually killed by it.

Working for the World Health Organization (WHO) in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 2003, he was called to a hospital when a patient arrived from Hong Kong with unusual pneumonia symptoms.

He recognised the disease was highly contagious, brought in strict controls and called in international health authorities. His action led to the WHO raising a worldwide alert about the disease and halted its spread in Vietnam.

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