A Chinese doctor who was punished after raising the alarm about China’s new coronavirus died Friday from the pathogen, sparking an outpouring of grief and outrage over a growing epidemic that has now killed over 630 people.
At least 31,000 people are now diagnosed with a virus that was first brought to the surface by the ophthalmologist Li Wenliang and colleagues in late December.
Since then, the disease has spread across China, causing the government to lock down cities with tens of millions of people, while the global panic has escalated with more than 240 cases in two dozen countries.
A quarantined cruise vessel now has 61 confirmed cases in Japan.
Li, 34, died early Friday, in a post on China’s Twitter-like Weibo website, Wuhan Central Hospital said an announcement that caused sorrow on social media — over a doctor hailed as a hero — and outrage over the government’s handling of the crisis.
“He is a hero who warned others with his life,” a fellow Wuhan doctor wrote on Weibo after reports of his death emerged.
“Those fat officials who live on public money, may you die from a snowstorm,” wrote one angry Weibo user.
His death also highlights the immense risks faced by frontline doctors in treating patients at overloaded and under-equipped hospitals in Wuhan, the quarantined city of 11 million people where the virus emerged in December.
Read More: Coronavirus death toll rises to 425 in China
The medical staff are overcrowded and lack sufficient protective equipment, Province Hubei’s deputy governor admitted on Thursday.
On December 30 in Wuhan, the central city at the epicenter of the crisis, Li sent a letter about the latest coronavirus to colleagues, but was later among eight whistleblowers arrested by police for “rumour-mongering.”
He eventually contracted the disease while treating a patient.
It even seemed that censors were wrestling with how to deal with his passing.
State-run Global Times newspaper and state broadcaster CCTV first announced on Weibo that Li died late Thursday, only to delete their posts after death quickly emerged as one of the topics on the popular platform.
Even the World Health Organisation, expressing sadness, reacted to the first reports of his death.
Analysts have said that in early January local authorities played down the severity of the outbreak because they held political meetings at the time and wanted to create an atmosphere of stability.