Dr. Li, who died early Friday of the coronavirus, had been arrested shortly after he warned former classmates on Dec. 30 about a new pathogen, with police accusing him of spreading rumors and forcing him to write a statement admitting to “illegal behavior.” News of Li’s death became the top top-read topic on China’s microblogging site Weibo overnight on Friday, with over 1.5 billion views, and was also heavily discussed in private WeChat messaging groups, where people expressed outrage and sadness.
Hua Chunying, spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry, praised Dr. Li during a daily briefing with reporters, expressing condolences to his family and calling him one of many medical workers who had given their lives in the line of duty.
Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at a hospital in Wuhan, the city at the epicenter of the outbreak, became one of the most visible figures in the crisis after he publicly revealed that he was one of eight people reprimanded by Wuhan police last month for “spreading rumors” about the coronavirus.
Li, 34, had told a group of doctors on WeChat, a Chinese social media and messaging platform, that seven cases of a disease resembling Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) had been linked to a seafood market in Wuhan, believed to be the source of the virus.
On 30 December he sent a message to fellow doctors in a chat group warning them to wear protective clothing to avoid infection.
Four days later he was summoned to the Public Security Bureau where he was told to sign a letter. In the letter he was accused of “making false comments” that had “severely disturbed the social order”.
He was one of eight people who police said were being investigated for “spreading rumours” Local authorities later apologised to Dr Li.
In his Weibo post he describes how on 10 January he started coughing, the next day he had a fever and two days later he was in hospital. He was diagnosed with the coronavirus on 30 January.