As the Novel Coronavirus has infected over 80,900 people in China, killing more than 3,000 people, a Chinese doctor revealed that local health authorities in Wuhan, which is the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak, missed an opportunity to issue an early warning about the imminent outbreak before the virus could spread globally.

Claiming that she was silenced by the Chinese authorities till now, the doctor revealed that she had noticed a stream of pneumonia patients in Wuhan province weeks before officials confirmed human-to-human transmission of the virus was possible.

The Wuhan doctor who was silenced

The Director of the emergency department at Wuhan Central Hospital, Ai Fen, first posted information about the new Coronavirus on social media platform WeChat. The post included an image of a diagnostic report of a patient which showed that the person had a pneumonia infection caused by a Sars-like coronavirus. The information was shared by late whistle-blower Li Wenliang, who was known to have been persecuted later.

The Wuhan doctor told Chinese magazine, People, that she was censored by Chinese authorities for raising the alarm without their permission at the start of the outbreak in China. The interview, which was published on Tuesday, March 10 was deleted from the magazine's WeChat account, while internet users quickly reported about the article on other platforms.

Ai Fen
Ai Fen Twitter/ Yiqin Fu

Wuhan doctor shared new Coronavirus information

As per the magazine, which is published by the state-run People's Publishing House, Wuhan doctor Ai initially shared the diagnostic report with a messaging group on WeChat, which was circulated along with the photograph of a diagnostic report sent by her colleague.

The doctor said that the report concerned her as it showed an infection similar to SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which infected more than 8,000 people worldwide and killed over 800 in 2003.

The doctor mentioned that even though she informed the hospital's community health service centre and infectious disease control department immediately, and talked to hospital respiratory department director about the patient, she was silenced immediately.

Coronavirus
Chief nurse Ma Jing holds a patient's hand to comfort her in the ICU (intensive care unit) of Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, Jan. 24, 2020. Xinhua/IANS

Warned by Chinese authorities

During the interview, Ai revealed that she was told by superiors the day she sounded the alarm that Wuhan's health commission had issued a directive that healthcare workers were not allowed to disclose anything about the virus or the disease, to avoid a panic situation. Later, the Wuhan hospital informed all the staff that no one should disclose any information related to the disease in public.

After Ai shared the image, an official in charge of the hospital's supervision department accused the doctor of spreading rumours and ordered her not to talk about the illness, not even to her husband. Almost a week later, along with a nurse, Ai also got infected by the new Coronavirus which the hospital mentioned as "viral pneumonia."

After Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, the suspected epicentre of the virus is located near Ai's hospital and was ordered to close but infection reports already started to grow, she noted. "If I could have known (intensity of the outbreak), I would have told everyone, even though I was warned," she said.