Li Wenliang, 34, had been detained by police in late December for “rumor-mongering” after he spoke publicly about the threat of coronavirus

By Julie Mazziotta
February 07, 2020
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A Chinese doctor who had tried to warn citizens about the new coronavirus before the outbreak died Thursday from the disease, according to friends and colleagues, The Washington Post reported.

Li Wenliang was a 34-year-old ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital in Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. He had told his medical school alumni group about the threat of a new, SARS-like virus in late December — before the Chinese government had publicly shared that the deadly respiratory illness was spreading throughout the country.

After Li’s message began to make its way across social media networks in China, he was detained by police for “rumor-mongering.” He was released two days later, on Jan. 3, after agreeing to sign a police document that said he had acted illegally by making “untrue statements” and that he would no longer commit “unlawful acts,” CNN reported.

Li returned to his job at Wuhan Central Hospital, where patients continued to come in with the mysterious respiratory illness. The Chinese government kept the new coronavirus under wraps until Jan. 7, while telling citizens not to believe online rumors about a virus. The new coronavirus has now spread to 28,275 people worldwide, including 12 in the U.S., and 563 people in China have died.

On Jan. 10, Li said he started coughing and checked himself into his hospital the next day. He was diagnosed with coronavirus three weeks later, on Feb. 1. Li spent his final days in the hospital’s intensive care unit, and tried to stay upbeat, posting on social media that he intended to get better and return to his job.

“I’ve seen the support and encouragement so many people online have given me,” he wrote on Weibo, the Chinese messaging app. “It makes my feel a little more relaxed in my heart.”

Li said that his parents are both hospitalized with fever, and that he lives with his pregnant wife and young child, though he did not say if any of them have tested positive for coronavirus.

Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization, shared his condolences on WHO’s Twitter account on Thursday.

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Dr. Li Wenliang,” Ryan wrote. “We all need to celebrate work that he did on #2019nCoV.”

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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This article originally appeared on People.com