The family of a ‘heroic’ doctor who was punished for sounding the alarm over the coronavirus outbreak before it spread have been paid £90,000 after Beijing ruled his death a ‘work place injury’ following outpourings of grief and fury on social media for the whistle-blower.
‘He wasn’t allowed to speak. He wasn’t even allowed to die,’ wrote one person on popular messaging app WeChat as she commented on a circulating notice which apparently instructed all media outlets to suppress the coverage of the passing of Dr Li Wenliang.
‘Dr Li Wenliang was only allowed to ‘die’ after most web users had gone to bed,’ condemned another person on Twitter-like Weibo, claiming that Dr Li’s hospital was quick to deny relevant reports and declared the medic’s death in the wee hours today.
China has announced that it was sending its anti-corruption watchdog to Wuhan to investigate the death of Dr Li after his passing triggered an outpouring of criticism towards the Communist Party and the death toll hit 638.
Wuhan officials also ordered 820,000 yuan (£90,000) to be paid to Dr Li’s family as compensation after deeming his illness ‘a work injury’.
Wuhan Human Resources and Social Bureau revealed the decision to Wuhan Radio and TV Station
Residents of Wuhan today placed flowers in front of Wuhan Central Hospital, which Dr Li worked for and was treated at, to pay their tribute to him while citizens in Hong Kong held a vigil to mourn the dedicated medic.
The CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said in a statement that it promised a thorough investigation into the issues surrounding Dr Li, who died of the new strain of coronavirus after being infected by one of his patients.
He left behind his wife who is pregnant, their five-year-old son and his elderly parents, according to media.
His elderly mother told video news outlet Pear that she did not have the chance to bid farewell to her son.
‘From his treatment to his resuscitation, we could not see him once. What a pity! [We were] not allowed to see [him]… because he had a contagious disease,’ the grief-stricken pensioner said.
She said she and her husband had also been diagnosed with the coronavirus and recovered a few days earlier.
‘His father and I have been treated. But what a pity that my son did not make it through,’ she cried.
Some supporters of the late doctor created illustrations of him based on a trending picture, which shows Dr Li wearing a face mask while treating patients during the epidemic.
Others flocked to share a quote from Dr Li: ‘A healthy society should not have just one voice.’ He made the comment from his sickbed last Friday during an interview with Chinese news outlet Caixin.
There were also netizens who distributed a protest song – ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’ – on WeChat, urging their peers to reflect upon the tragedy which had occurred to the ‘heroic’ doctor as well as the responsibility the government ought to shoulder.
The song, originally from musical Les Misérables, has been used as one of the anthems by anti-government demonstrators in Hong Kong during their ongoing pro-democracy movement since last June. And now it has inspired their compatriots in mainland as they showed their dissatisfaction towards the regime.
The ophthalmologist caught the public’s attention after 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 coronavirus broke out in the city of 14 million which has been locked down since January 20.
His death has triggered an outpouring of anger from the Chinese people who are now openly criticising their leaders for clamping down on the news.
‘How they dared to ‘pretend to be resuscitating him’! How they dared to ‘control’ the public opinions,’ one critic wrote on Weibo.
‘The god of death wanted him at midnight, but the organisation demanded him live until the early hours,’ another person seconded.
Even state-run newspapers are now urging the authorities to keep all information transparent.
Shanghai-based Xinmin Evening News today wrote: ‘Let the sunshine of transparency puncture through the smog of virus’.
Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of Global Times, urged the Wuhan government to apologise to the public.
He told his 21 million followers on Weibo: ‘The city of Wuhan indeed owes Li Wenliang an apology. The main officials of Wuhan and Hubei also owe a sincere apology to the people of Wuhan and all over the country.
‘Why didn’t Wuhan’s major officials visit Li Wenliang when he was gravely ill, and overturn the attitude given to him previously?
‘When our regional government and officials do something wrong, is it really this difficult to bow to those who were wronged and apologise to them?’
Dr Li’s death was reported by Mr Hu’s newspaper at around 9:30pm local time yesterday.
The post gathered tens of thousands of comments in a matter of minutes, but was later removed by the newspaper for unspecified reasons.
Within a half-hour of announcing earlier Friday that Li was in critical condition, the hospital received nearly 500,000 comments on its social media post, many of them from people hoping Li would pull through.
It declared his death at 3:48am local time today.
Through its official Weibo (social media) account, the hospital wrote: ‘Our hospital’s ophthalmologist Li Wenliang was infected during the fight of the epidemic of the new coronavirus pneumonia, and died at 2:58am in the early hours of February 7 despite the fact that we had tried our best to resuscitate him.
‘We hereby express our deep regret and sincere condolences.’
Dr Li was accused of spreading fake news and criticised by police last month for sending a message to an online chatting group, informing his alumni that seven patients from the Huanan market had been diagnosed with SARS by his hospital.
His warning was posted on December 30 and came more than two weeks before the virus broke out in the city of 14 million, causing it to be put on lockdown on January 20.
The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market turned out to be the breeding ground of the new strain of coronavirus, which is similar to SARS and has been named ‘2019-nCov’.
Dr Li was among eight doctors who were dubbed ‘rumourmongers’ by Wuhan authorities and investigated.
His original messages, sent to about 150 medics on popular messaging platform WeChat, read: ‘Seven confirmed SARS cases were found in Huanan Fruit and Seafood Market.’
He continued: ‘[The patients] were in quarantine in the Houhu Branch of our hospital.’
The posts caught the attention of the police after one person in the chatting group uploaded a screen grab of the conversation onto the internet.
According to Huaxi Urban Daily, the eight accused medics shared similar messages on three chatting groups, all attended by Wuhan medics. The messages warned the medics to pay attention to a possible outbreak of what they thought was SARS.
A statement from Wuhan police on January 1 condemned them for spreading ‘inauthentic’ information without proof. Officers said their acts had brought bad impact on society, and they would be ‘dealt with’ by law.
To salvage the situation, Wuhan police stressed late last month that the eight people had not been warned, fined or detained.
Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said the eight people who had been reprimanded were ‘worthy of respect because they worried about their country and its people’.
Dr Li told Chinese news outlet Caixin in an interview last Friday that he discovered the new virus could spread among humans around January 8 – 12 days before Chinese experts revealed the information to the public.
He said on his social media account on the same day that he was hospitalised on January 12 after treating one patient who had coronavirus but did not show any symptoms.
On Saturday, he said he was tested positive for coronavirus.
The news comes as more than 31,520 people have been infected worldwide and the death toll has climbed to 638. The overwhelming majority are in China, but more than 320 people with the illness have been reported in over two dozen other countries, including three cases in the UK, 12 in the US and 14 in Australia.
Leading scientists today called for a blanket ban on travellers from Asia to buy Britain valuable time to prepare a vaccine against the killer coronavirus that is rapidly sweeping the world.
Virologists argue travel restrictions – such as the ban on passengers from mainland China in the US, Australia and New Zealand – are ‘worth implementing’ to contain the spread of the SARS-like infection.
The calls to ramp up measures come amid backlash at the Government’s response to the outbreak. Last night it issued travel advice, warning travellers from nine Asian countries to phone NHS 111 and quarantine themselves if they feel ill.
Ministers announced the upgraded advice after a third case of the coronavirus was yesterday confirmed on British soil in a businessman who had not visited China. He is thought to be in his 40s or 50s and attended a conference in Singapore.
But furious Brits have slammed the ‘weak’ measures to prevent more cases on UK soil, urging ministers to shut the border and saying ‘serious guidance is needed’. Others have questioned if it’s time to start wearing face masks.
Almost 640 people have died from the coronavirus, which can be spread through coughs, sneezes and touching contaminated surfaces.
In other developments to the escalating outbreak today: