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The doctor who tried to warn the world about Coronavirus was silenced. Now he's dead.

Li Wenlian was told to "stop spreading rumors" about Coronavirus by the Chinese government. He died shortly after contracting the disease.

The doctor who tried to warn the world about Coronavirus was silenced. Now he's dead.
Image Source: RunPhoto / Getty Images

Before Coronavirus became an international epidemic, Li Wenliang, 34, had discovered the disease while treating patients at Wuhan Central Hospital in Hubei, China. The ophthalmologist tried to warn some of his friends through a private group chat but was ordered to keep quiet by the police, the BBC reports. He went back to fighting the virus in his patients and, like many others, contracted the illness himself. Unfortunately, he was unable to treat his patients - and himself. On Thursday, he sadly passed away. In his final post uploaded to Chinese social media platform Weibo, he wondered why the government was actively misinforming the public.

 

 

Wenliang first discovered the disease when he was testing results from seven different patients. He realized they all showed signs of an unknown disease, quite similar to SARS, which killed over 700 people across the Asian continent in 2003. He proceeded to sound the alarm on December 30 in a private chat between his medical school alumni on messaging platform WeChat. He asked his friends to privately warn their loved ones. Instead, someone took a screenshot of his message and posted it online without blurring his name out. As one would expect, the post went viral. Government and police officials summoned him to the hospital for questioning.

 



 

 

A few days later, he was forced to appear at his local police station. There, he was warned against spreading "rumors" about Coronavirus. He was made to sign a statement in acknowledgment of his "misdemeanor," ensuring the government he would not commit further "unlawful acts." During this time, there were very few reports about the outbreak - and the government intended to keep it that way. The police went so far as to announce on January 1 that it had "taken legal measures” against eight people who had “published and shared rumors online" about the disease and "caused adverse impacts on society." "The internet is not land beyond the law," they stated. "Any unlawful acts of fabricating, spreading rumors, and disturbing the social order will be punished by police according to the law, with zero tolerance."

 



 

 

For the first weeks of January, authorities suggested that Coronavirus could only be transferred to humans from animals infected with the disease. Doctors received no guidance or protection. One day, after unknowingly treating a woman who had contracted Cornovirus for glaucoma, Wenliang began coughing and was promptly admitted to the hospital. He had been infected. His condition quickly deteriorated and he had to be transferred to the intensive care unit. On February 1, he was officially diagnosed with Coronavirus. It took him less than a week to succumb to the deadly illness.

 



 

 

The doctor leaves behind his parents, both of whom have contracted Coronavirus, and his wife, who also has the disease. She is pregnant with their second child. In his ultimate Weibo post before his death, Wenliang wrote, "I was wondering why (the government's) official notices were still saying there was no human-to-human transmission, and there were no healthcare workers infected." Since his death, a "rare online revolution" has emerged, The New York Times reports. Dozens of individuals, including prominent entrepreneurs and ordinary online users, have come together to express their grief and anger. Posting videos of the Les Misérables song 'Do You Hear the People Sing' and invoking Article 35 of China’s Constitution which stipulates freedom of speech, the Chinese public is fighting back. While it is too late to achieve justice for Wenliang, the Chinese government is in debt to several others.

 



 

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