How Dr. Li Warned The World

Dr. Li Wenliang. A doctor named a hero after his attempt to warn the public about the potential Corona-virus (COVID-19) epidemic, died of the infection.

Dr. Li Wenliang was a Chinese ophthalmologist at Wuham Central Hospital who warned colleagues about COVID-19 on December 20th, 2019 via WeChat. Dr. Li becoming a whistle-blower came after the public had gained knowledge of Li’s findings and was one of eight people detained in Wuhan for “spreading rumors”. In a video, Dr. Li was asked to sign a statement agreeing to stop illegal activities or face legal punishment.

Li decided to speak out about his experience because “I think a healthy society should not have just one voice”. In China, citizens and even some officials seem to agree with him. The National Supervisory Commission, the country’s highest anti-corruption agency, has announced it will investigate Li’s death. In the wake of Li’s death, the Wuhan municipal government issued a statement offering condolences to Li’s family as did the National Health Commission. Li’s death highlighted the impact of COVID-19 on health workers in China. On Feb 14, 2020, the Chinese Government announced 1716 health workers in China have COVID-19 and six have died.

On 8 January, Li contracted the coronavirus when he saw an infected patient at his hospital. The patient suffered from acute angle-closure glaucoma and developed a fever the next day. Li then began to suspect that the patient might have a coronavirus infection. He developed a fever and cough on 10 January, which soon became severe. Doctor Yu Chengbo, a Zhejiang medical expert sent to Wuhan, told media that although most young patients do not tend to develop severe conditions, the glaucoma patient that Li saw on 8 January was a storekeeper at Huanan Seafood Market with a high viral load, which could have exacerbated Li’s infection.

On 12 January, Li was admitted to intensive care at Houhu Hospital District, Wuhan Central Hospital, where he was quarantined, treated, and tested for the virus several times until he tested positive for the infection on 30 January. He was diagnosed with the virus infection on 1 February.

While hospitalized, Li posted a message online vowing to return to the front lines after his recovery.

According to a colleague, Li’s condition became critical on 5 February. On 6 February, while Li was on the phone with a friend, he told the friend that he was having trouble breathing and that his oxygen saturation had dropped to 85%. At around 19:00, he was sent to the emergency room. According to China Newsweek, his heartbeat stopped at 21:30. In social media posts, the Chinese state media reported that Li had died, but the posts were soon deleted. Later, Wuhan Central Hospital soon released a statement contradicting reports of his death: “In the process of fighting the coronavirus, the eye doctor from our hospital Li Wenliang was unfortunately infected. He is now in critical condition and we are doing our best to rescue him.” Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) was reportedly used to keep him alive. Yet, the effort was unsuccessful, and the hospital announced that Li had died at 2:58 am on 7 February 2020.

During the confusion, at 1:49 am more than 17 million people were watching the live stream for his status updates. The death of Li provoked considerable grief and anger on the social media which became extended to a demand for freedom of speech. The hashtag #wewantfreedomofspeech gained over 2 million views and over 5,500 posts within 5 hours before it was removed by the censors, as were other related hashtags and posts.

In an attempt to combat the coronavirus infection, a 600,000 sq. ft. hospital was constructed in 10 days. Below is a time lapse of that video.