Anger over coronavirus censorship after 'hero' doctor's death

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Outrage is rife in China following the death of a coronavirus whistleblower who tried to alert others of the imminent threat before it became a global crisis.

Li Wenliang was one of eight young doctors who attempted to spread awareness on a “SARS-like” virus last year, but was condemned and censored for doing so, CNN reported.

"In retrospect, we should highly praise them. They were wise before the outbreak,” Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist at the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC), said in December.

Dr Li was accused of spreading “rumours” about the major health threat, and only spoke out to warn his peers to protect themselves, he told CNN.

The 34-year-old spoke to the network before his condition worsened and he died.

Li Wenliang revealed he tested positive to coronavirus on February 1.
Li Wenliang revealed he tested positive on February 1 and days later he dead. Source: Twitter

A letter to Dr Li from the Wuhan police bureau on January 3 said he had "severely disrupted social order" with messages on the messaging app called WeChat.

He was asked to sign the letter as a promise to stop such illegal behaviour immediately or face criminal charges.

On February 1, he confirmed he had tested positive for the virus and just days later he was dead.

“We express our deep condolences and regret. We pay tribute to how he stood at the front line to fight the epidemic and offer our sincere condolences to his family,” the Wuhan government said on its website.

Grief was quick to flood Chinese social media sites, but internet regulator Great Firewall reportedly acted fast to quash trending topics relating to Dr Li’s death.

Two hashtags trended on Weibo, a platform similar to Twitter, one being “The Wuhan government owes Dr. Li Wenliang an apology” and the other “We want freedom of speech”.

A makeshift shrine outside the Wuhan Central Hospital for Li Wenliang.
A makeshift shrine outside the Wuhan Central Hospital in Wuhan for Dr Li. Source: AAP

Each attracted tens of thousands of views before being deleted, with another stating “I want freedom of speech” gaining 1.8 million views before also being wiped.

“Those fat officials who live on public money, may you die from a snowstorm,” one Weibo user wrote in a comment that was later scrubbed.

“He is a hero who warned others with his life,” a fellow Wuhan doctor wrote.

There was also reported censorship involved with the reporting of Dr Li’s death, with media outlets first reporting it on Thursday night, only for stories to later be deleted without explanation, according to CNN.

The hospital then announced efforts were being made to resuscitate him before announcing he had indeed died.

The confusing information outraged the public even more, with many complaining it was almost as though Dr Li “died twice”.

“A doctor had to die twice. That is national humiliation,” a user on WeChat said.

Dr Li Wenliang (pictured) died on Friday, February 7, 2020, after being infected with coronavirus.
Dr Li Wenliang died Friday, February 7, 2020, after being infected with the coronavirus. Source: AAP

Another was suspicious of the timing of the announcement, accusing authorities of releasing news of his death overnight while people were sleeping to control their reaction.

“I knew you would post this in the middle of the night. You think we've all gone to sleep? No. We haven't,” one person said.

Social media users called him a hero and shared a selfie of Dr Li lying on a hospital bed wearing an oxygen respirator and holding up his Chinese identification card.

One image showed the message “farewell Li Wenliang” etched into snow on a riverbank.

The death toll in mainland China jumped by 86 to 722, and is poised to pass the 774 deaths recorded globally during the 2002-2003 pandemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), another virus that jumped from animals to humans in China.

Dr Li’s death was reported after a Chinese worker reportedly died from a cardiac arrest brought on by exhaustion while working during the outbreak.

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