Who was Dr. Li Wenliang and what was his role with the Wuhan coronavirus?


By Charmaine Loh

Who was Dr. Li Wenliang and what was his role with the Wuhan coronavirus?

Who is Dr. Li Wenliang?

Dr. Li Wenliang was a 34-year-old ophthalmologist in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province and also the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic. He was one of the eight people investigated by the police for allegedly “spreading rumours” about the deadly virus back in December, which has now claimed more than 600 lives and infected more than 31,000 people.

Li died earlier this morning after contracting the virus while working at Wuhan Central Hospital. News reports stated that he was treating a glaucoma patient who at the time did not know that he had already been infected by the virus. According to CNN, Li was hospitalised on 12 January and tested positive for coronavirus on 1 February.

Why is he trending now?

Prior to his death, many Chinese citizens were enraged after learning of his efforts to warn people about the virus and his subsequent punishment for shedding light upon the gravity of the issue. “If the officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier, I think it would have been a lot better. There should be more openness and transparency,” Li told The New York Times last week.

News of his death triggered further anger and a massive outpouring of grief online. Li’s death has become the most-talked topic on China’s biggest social media platforms earlier today, with topics “Wuhan government owes Dr. Li Wenliang an apology” and “We want freedom of speech” trending on Weibo—China’s Twitter-like platform—not long after Wuhan Central Hospital released a statement confirming his death. The hospital’s confirmation also follows a series of conflicting statements about his condition from various Chinese state media outlets and the hospital itself. Both topics were quickly censored shortly after.

What was his role with the coronavirus?

On 30 December, he sent a message to his medical school alumni group on WeChat, warning them about a mysterious virus after seven patients from a local seafood market were diagnosed with a disease similar to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and quarantined in his hospital. Within hours, screenshots of his message had gone viral (with his name uncensored).

“I only wanted to remind my university classmates to be careful,” Li told CNN. After he saw the news circulating online, he expected that he will be facing the authorities—and he was right. He was soon summoned and forced to sign a statement that accused him of rumor-mongering.

Now that the Wuhan coronavirus has been officially declared as an global health emergency by WHO, many are criticising the Chinese authorities for downplaying the outbreak in the first place.

For more updates on the coronavirus in Malaysia (and globally), head over here.

Explore More