In December, Dr. Li Wenliang was threatened by the government after he publicly voiced concerns about the new coronavirus before it was identified. On Thursday, the illness had left him in critical condition, China’s Global Times reported. Earlier, CBS News had reported he died, citing an earlier Global Times report and a statement by the World Health Organization.
“In the fight against the epidemic of the new coronavirus pneumonia, Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist of our hospital, was unfortunately infected. He is currently in critical condition and we are trying our best to rescue him,” Wuhan Central Hospital said in a social media post just after midnight, The Associated Press reports.
Following reports that Wenliang had died, the World Health Organization tweeted, “We are deeply saddened by the passing of Dr Li Wenliang. We all need to celebrate work that he did.”
Wenliang, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist, warned fellow clinicians in a group chat in December about a SARS-like illness popping up in one of the main hospitals in the city of Wuhan, BBC News reports. He was then told by government officials to stop “making false comments.”
BBC News said officials visited Wenliang and accused him of having “severely disturbed the social order.” They presented him with an official letter, stating: “We solemnly warn you: If you keep being stubborn, with such impertinence, and continue this illegal activity, you will be brought to justice — is that understood?” He signed it.
After being diagnosed with the illness in January, he was lauded on Chinese social media as a hero for speaking out.
Local authorities later apologized.
On Thursday, the World Health Organization said it was still too early to say whether the outbreak has reached its peak.
The coronavirus has killed at least 565 people and infected more than 28,000. The total number of cases in the U.S. was 12 as of Thursday morning, in six different states, but the outbreak is still focused largely in central China.