Li Wenliang, a medical doctor and one of the first eight people to warn the public about the novel coronavirus, has died late last night due to the infection, sparking a level of collective anger and grief unseen on Chinese social media.
Hailed as a national hero, Li was apprehended by Wuhan police for spreading “rumours” earlier last month.
He had warned his classmates in a private WeChat message about a SARS-like virus spreading in Wuhan, the epicentre of the epidemic. He first came in contact with the virus, after treating a glaucoma patient who at the time was not aware that he had already been infected with the deadly virus.
The news of his death came around 9:30pm local time on Thursday (13:30 GMT Thursday), when Dr Li’s colleague posted on his Weibo, saying he had passed away after being sent to the intensive care unit.
Global Times, China’s English-language state media, first reported the story and opened a social media discussion on Weibo.
His death quickly became the most-talked topic on WeChat and Weibo, China’s two-biggest social media platforms, attracting millions of posts and searches.
In response to the doctor’s death, China’s anti-corruption agency, the National Supervisory Commission, announced on Friday that it is sending a team to Hubei to conduct a “comprehensive investigation.”
In an almost unprecedented scene, people’s Weibo and WeChat feeds were filled with grief over Li’s death.
The topic “Li Wenliang” and “Wuhan Government Still Owes Dr Li an Apology” were trending on Weibo in the first hour following the news, topping the list.
Dr Li’s death put an extra layer of emotion on a nation that is already feeling agitated over this outbreak that so far has killed at least 636 people and infected 31,161 others.
Earlier on Wednesday, The World Health Organization (WHO) said that the number of new confirmed coronavirus cases had fallen for the first time since the outbreak began.