A Chinese citizen journalist who has told the world about the desperate situation on the streets of virus-epicentre Wuhan has disappeared as a whistleblower doctor was announced to have died.
Chen Qiushi has not been heard from since 7pm local time Thursday, with calls to his mobile phone going unanswered.
His reports have detailed horrific scenes including a woman frantically calling family on her phone as she sits next to a relative lying dead in a wheelchair and the helpless situation of patients in the overstretched hospitals.
Mr Qiushi’s disappearance came as heroic 34-year-old Chinese doctor Li Wenliang, who sounded the alarm on coronavirus, was announced to have died after allegedly contracting the disease while treating patients at Wuhan’s Central Hospital.
Fellow Chinese citizen journalist Fang Bin, who has published videos of bodies loaded into a bus, was also arrested by authorities last week. He has since been released.
Mr Quishi visited major hospitals, funeral homes and residential areas in Wuhan and talked to patients and families to find out about the epidemic.
His videos were uploaded to Twitter and YouTube, which are banned in China but can be accessed with software that avoids the firewall.
He had been planning to visit Fang Cang shelter hospital before he disappeared.
A post on his Twitter account, by a friend authorised to speak on his behalf, said: ‘When Chen Qiushi was taken away, he was in good health and normal temperature. We look forward to his return in peace and health. He has yet to get in touch with his family.’
His mother has posted a video calling for his safe return. A friend also told CNN: ‘We’re worried for his physical safety but also worried that while he’s missing he might get infected by the virus.’
Mr Qiushi heroically visited hospitals under construction to reveal their condition and bravely questioned some of the decisions being made in Wuhan.
One post on his account before his arrest read: ‘It’s easy to put 1,000 beds in the stadium, but how do 1,000 people eat together? How to bathe, How to go to the toilet?
‘Do they need to wear a mask 24 hours? Is there enough oxygen, a ventilator, and when will the specific medicine be available?
‘This problem has troubled me for several days! Other patients are frail and need family care. ~ Every step is very difficult right now.’
He posted a video on February 5 from the son of a coronavirus victim who ‘wanted to say how his father went from the illness to his death, in honour of his father’.
He has also published a video showing rows of beds and stacked supplies inside the Wuhan square cabin hospital this month.
‘Visiting this under construction,’ he tweeted. ‘Local doctors said that it was more like a battlefield hospital or a temporary shelter.
‘Patients with infectious diseases suspected to live in concentrated areas. How to avoid cross infection is a problem that must be taken seriously!’
Make-shift hospital beds were shown to have three blankets on them.
Another video posted on his social media account showed him easily entering the outpatient hall of a Wuhan hospital, to highlight how easy it is to walk in and out of the medical centre.
‘The hospital outpatient hall and the inpatient department are places to enter casually,’ he said. ‘Chaotic scenes, now they do not care about a stranger wearing a mask. That’s how I did it.’
Another video posted online – after it emerged that eating bats may have caused the outbreak – shows a cooked bat in a large bowl with the caption: ‘After experiencing this matter, can Chinese people give up eating wildlife?’
The disappearance came a day before Mr Wenliang died in the early hours of Friday after, according to an official statement, attempts to resuscitate him failed.
The ophthalmologist first caught the public’s attention when he was reprimanded by police and accused of spreading fake news for warning on social media of ‘SARS at a Wuhan seafood market’ on December 30.
Li’s post came two weeks before the coronavirus outbreak was declared and Wuhan, at the epicentre, was put into lock down.
His family have since been paid £90,000 after Beijing ruled his death was a ‘work injury’ following outpourings of grief and fury on social media.
Fang Bin, who was released following outcry online, was quiet for most of Friday before posting a video update in the evening.
One clip from him said showed sick patients lying on hospital beds and bodies stacked inside a bus at the exit of Wuhan’s hospital Number Three.
China has stepped up its efforts to police internal platforms including Weibo, Tencent’s WeChat and ByteDance’s Douyin, reports Bloomberg Quint, but has been unable to touch US-based Twitter and YouTube.
A raft of social media accounts have also been suspended and outrage over the death of the doctor that first raised the flag about the diseas has been scrubbed from social media.