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The Chinese doctor who tried to warn others about coronavirus

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In early January, authorities in the Chinese city of Wuhan were trying to keep news of a new coronavirus under wraps. When one doctor tried to warn fellow medics about the outbreak, police paid him a visit and told him to stop. A month later he has been hailed as a hero, after he posted his story from a hospital bed.

It's a stunning insight into the botched response by local authorities in Wuhan in the early weeks of the coronavirus outbreak.

Dr Li was working at the centre of the outbreak in December when he noticed seven cases of a virus that he thought looked like SARS - the virus that led to a global epidemic in 2003. On 30 December he sent a message to fellow doctors in a chat group warning them about the outbreak and advising they wear protective clothing to avoid infection. What Dr Li didn't know then was that the disease that had been discovered was an entirely new coronavirus.

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". "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 was one of eight people who police said were being investigated for "spreading rumours".

At the end of January, Dr Li published a copy of the letter on Weibo and explained what had happened. In the meantime, local authorities had apologised to him but that apology came too late.

For the first few weeks of January officials in Wuhan were insisting that only those who came into contact with infected animals could catch the virus. No guidance was issued to protect doctors.

"A safer public health environment… requires tens of millions of Li Wenliang," said one reader of Dr Li's post.

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Source: BBC News, 4 February 2020

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