Whistleblower doctor in China, 34, has died from new coronavirus he tried to warn others about

He was arrested by police for spreading rumours but vindicated by China's Supreme People's Court.

Sulaiman Daud | February 07, 2020, 12:14 AM

*Update: Wuhan hospital has come out to challenge Chinese state media reports of Li's death.*

*Update 2: At 2.58am on Friday, the doctor has passed away*

Li Wenliang, the Chinese doctor who tried to warn the public about the outbreak of a new type of coronavirus, was thought to have died.

Chinese state media Global Times confirmed Li's death in a tweet at 10:38pm on Thursday, Feb. 6.

They however deleted the tweet at a later time.

Here was the tweet.

This account was rebutted by Wuhan hospital in a message they shared on Weibo.

In it they denied that the doctor had died, and that he was still undergoing emergency surgery.

"During the fight against the new coronavirus, our ophthalmologist Li Wenliang was unfortunately infected, he is currently critically ill, we are doing our best to rescue him."

Global Times then tweeted out an update to the situation.

According to them, Li's heartbeat had apparently stopped at 9.30pm, but he was "given treatment with ECMO(extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation)".

ECMO is a technique used to prolong cardiac and respiratory support when someone's heart and lungs are unable to provide the perfusion required to sustain life.

At 2.58am, the doctor passed away.

Li's WeChat post went viral

Li shot to global prominence as one of a group of eight people who were arrested by Chinese police for attempting to blow the whistle on the outbreak of the virus, according to CNN.

On Dec. 30, Li sent a message in his medical school alumni WeChat group to warn about seven patients quarantined in isolation wards in the ophthalmology department in his hospital.

The patients were from a local seafood market who were diagnosed with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

Screenshots of his posts quickly circulated online and went viral -- unfortunately, without blocking out Li's name.

Li was then accused of rumour-mongering by the local police in Wuhan.

On Jan. 3, 2020, he was summoned to a police station and reprimanded for spreading online rumours and "severely disrupting social order."

Vindicated by China Supreme Court

In a rare development, the group of arrested personnel were vindicated by China's Supreme Court, who criticised the Wuhan police on Jan. 28, 2020 for punishing the "rumour-mongers".

The Supreme Court said, according to Beijing-based media Caixin:

"It might have been a fortunate thing if the public had believed the 'rumors' then and started to wear masks and carry out sanitisation measures, and avoid the wild animal market."

On Jan. 29, 2020, the Wuhan police issued a statement saying that the eight had only been summoned for a "talk", and not detained or fined.

Although they did not specifically release any names, Li is considered to be one of the eight whistleblowers.

Li contracted the virus after treating another patient

However, by this time, Li had already contracted the coronavirus.

He caught the virus from a patient he was treating in his hospital, and his conditioned worsened so severely that he had to be admitted to the intensive care unit and placed on oxygen support.

His condition was confirmed on Feb. 1.

Speaking to Caixin, Li said: "I think there should be more than one voice in a healthy society, and I don’t approve of using public power for excessive interference."

According to CNN, his initial motivation for sending the first WeChat message was simple: "I only wanted to remind my university classmates to be careful."

Li had told various media he was planning to go back to the front lines to fight the novel conronavirus outbreak when he got better.

Top image from Global Times' Twitter.