Alwaght- Li Wenliang, the Chinese doctor who was reprimanded for warning against a “SARS-like” coronavirus before it was officially recognized, died of the virus on Friday, triggering a wave of mourning in China.
The death of 34-year-old doctor came as the toll from new coronavirus in mainland China has reached 637, with a total to 31,211 cases, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva.
“For the last two days there had been fewer reported infections in China, which is good news, but we caution against reading too much into that,” he told the WHO Executive Board.
“The numbers could go up again.”
Ophthalmologist Li was among eight people reprimanded by police in the city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the flu-like contagion in central Hubei province, for spreading “illegal and false” information.
Li’s social media warnings of a new “SARS-like” coronavirus - a reference to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which killed almost 800 people around the world in 2002-2003 after originating in China - angered police.
China was accused of trying to cover up SARS.
Li was forced to sign a letter on Jan. 3, saying he had “severely disrupted social order” and was threatened with charges.
A selfie of him lying on a hospital bed this week wearing an oxygen respirator and holding up his Chinese identification card was shared widely online.
Social media users called Li a hero, accusing authorities of incompetence.
“Wuhan indeed owes Li Wenliang an apology,” Hu Xijin, editor of the government-backed Global Times tabloid, said on social media. “Wuhan and Hubei officials also owe a solemn apology to the people of Hubei and this country.”
Li’s death was a “tragic reminder” of how China’s preoccupation with maintaining stability drives it to suppress vital information, Nicholas Bequelin, Southeast Asia regional director for Amnesty International said.
“China must learn the lesson from Li’s case and adopt a rights-respecting approach to combating the epidemic,” he said.