The heroic Chinese doctor who sounded an early warning on the coronavirus epidemic has died of the infection in a Wuhan hospital, China has confirmed. The death of Dr Li Wenliang led to massive outpouring of grief and anger on Chinese social media sites. The 34-year-old ophthalmologist in Wuhan Central Hospital was taken ill in mid-January and was confirmed to have been infected with the coronavirus in early February.

Li Wenliang courted controversy in early December when he let the world know that a mysterious virus was spreading in Wuhan. The warning message he posted in an online group of peers was soon rubbished as rumour-mongering and the Wuhan police targeted him. Li's warning that seven patients with the mystery illness had a link to the Wuhan seafood market was the earliest, and the most crucial, piece of information regarding the provenance of the deadly virus, which has gone on to kill more than 600 people and infected more than 30,000.

However, the local authorities attacked the young doctor in their rush to control the flow of information. Dr. Li was forced by the Wuhan police to sign a letter in which they accused him of "spreading rumors online". He was also charged with 'severely disrupting social order'.

Mistreatment followed by attempt to cover up health details

The Chinese social media users are angry over the mistreatment the doctor suffered at the hands of the Wuhan police. Demands for a Wuhan police apology trended on Weibo. People are also livid over the confusion, and the possible attempt to cover up, the health details of Dr. Li. The Wuhan administration apparently tried to hush up the news of his death on Thursday. Even as international news organisations reported that the whistleblower doctor was dead, the authorities declined to confirm it.

Coronavirus status as of 6 February, 2020
Coronavirus status as of 6 February, 2020 GISAID

However, on early Friday morning, the Wuhan Central Hospital confirmed the doctor's death. "Our hospital's ophthalmologist Li Wenliang was unfortunately infected with coronavirus during his work in the fight against the coronavirus epidemic," the hospital said. "He died at 2:58 am on Feb 7 after attempts to resuscitate were unsuccessful," the hospital said in a statement.

'Finally diagnosed'

Li himself took to social media to announce that he was infected with the virus. Finally diagnosed," he wrote in a Weibo post on February 1. The post, which drew tens of thousands of comments, became his last social media post.

Even as the death toll from the virus went up and large cities remained under lockdown following the contagion, China's top court admonished the Wuhan authorities for failing to take note of early warnings. The court noted that had the officials taken the early warning seriously, the virus would not have spread vigorously.