KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 7 — A 34-year-old doctor from China who tried to make the first warnings about the novel coronavirus outbreak has died from the virus.
BBC reported that Dr Li Wenliang was infected with the new strain of coronavirus, dubbed 2019-nCoV, while working at Wuhan Central Hospital in the epicentre of the outbreak that has infected over 31,000 people in mainland China.
The death toll has risen to 636, including 73 new deaths reported yesterday.
Media reports were initially mixed about Dr Li’s death, with Chinese media first reporting his death yesterday at 9.30pm local time. The news outlets then reported a new time of the young doctor’s death today at 2.58am.
Journalists and doctors at the scene alleged to the BBC about government intervention.
According to the BBC, ophthalmologist Dr Li had first noticed seven cases of a virus that he believed looked like SARS that had sparked the 2002-03 global epidemic. Last December 30, he reportedly warned fellow doctors in a chat group to wear protective clothing to avoid infection.
Police investigated him for “spreading rumours”. The Public Security Bureau, which hauled him up four days after his warning to the doctors, had reportedly told him to sign a letter that accused him of “making false comments” that had “severely disturbed the social order”.
Local authorities later apologised to Dr Li. The New York Times reported that a commentary on the social media account of the Supreme People’s Court in China had criticised the police for launching investigations on the spreading of rumours.
“It might have been a better way to prevent and control the new coronavirus today if the public had believed the ‘rumour’ then and started to wear masks and carry out sanitary measures and avoid the wild animal market,” the Chinese court said.
The 2019-nCoV was believed to have originated from a market in Wuhan that sold live animals.
Most of those killed by the novel coronavirus from the same family of viruses that produced SARS and MERS, or conditions like the common cold, had been older than 60 or suffered from other illnesses. But Dr Li’s medical history, the BBC reported, was unknown.