Chinese doctor who warned world about coronavirus is remembered

Wuhan residents pay tribute to Chinese whistleblower doctor who warned the world about coronavirus before dying ‘of the virus’ one year ago

  • Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at a hospital in the city sounded the alarm early
  • But the 34-year-old was quickly reprimanded by police for ‘spreading rumours’
  • His death from virus on February 7, 2020 led to outpouring of public mourning

The Chinese whistleblower who first sounded the alarm about coronavirus spreading in Wuhan was today remembered a year after his death. 

Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at a hospital in the city, became one of the most visible figures in the early days of the outbreak when he tried to warn the world, but was reprimanded by police for ‘spreading rumours.’

The 34-year-old’s death from the virus on February 7, 2020 led to an outpouring of public mourning and rare expressions of anger online.

Days later he was hailed a ‘hero of China’ by renowned epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan. 

But when President Xi Jinping honoured the ‘heroes’ of the ‘people’s war’ against the virus in September, there was no mention of Li’s contribution.


Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang blew the whistle on the mysterious new coronavirus in December 2019 and died in February 2020 after contracting the virus from a patient and died in February 2020 after contracting the virus from a patient

Today mourners laid flowers outside the Wuhan Central Hospital and paid tribute to Li for his bravery in speaking out despite pressure from the state

Today mourners laid flowers outside the Wuhan Central Hospital and paid tribute to Li for his bravery in speaking out despite pressure from the state. 

‘He was the first to tell us about the virus,’ said Li Pan, 24, who owns an online store.

‘He must have considered the impact would be huge, but he still raised the alarm. That was really brave,’ Li said.

Ji Penghui, a 34 year-old designer, said he heard about Li’s warning in the early days and rushed to stock up on masks before the officials spoke openly about the virus.

‘The public strongly acknowledges him, and personally, I think he should receive more official honours, rather than being treated as what he did is already in the past’ Ji said.

Ji said the government made mistakes in the early stages, but it has handled it well since.

Li’s personal page on the Twitter-like Weibo platform remains a rare space for users to commemorate the trauma of the early outbreak after the country imposed a strict lockdown on millions of people in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province.

Commenters marked the anniversary of his death with thousands of messages, ranging from candle emoticons to updates on their own lives addressed to the late doctor 

A worker in protectively overalls and disinfecting equipment walks outside the Wuhan Central Hospital

A World Health Organization team is currently in Wuhan researching the early stages of the outbreak, and is preparing to present its findings. 

The team visited the sprawling Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, thought to be where the virus first became an outbreak, which led to a pandemic that has infected over 105million people and killed nearly three million worldwide.

The market site has been shut to the public since the beginning of last year.

The origins of the virus have become highly politicised, and some Chinese diplomats and state media have thrown support behind theories that the virus potentially originated in another country.

While 80-year-old Qian Wende said he does not know where the virus came from, he regards Li as a hero.

‘We should be commemorating his contribution to fighting the pandemic,’ he said.

Life in Wuhan, a city of 11million, has largely returned to normal, with bustling shopping malls and lively night markets months after the world’s first Covid lockdown was lifted in April. 

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