Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital, who was among eight coronavirus whistle-blowers, has himself contracted the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
Li was briefly detained for raising an alarm over mysterious pneumonia cases with striking similarity to the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) caused by another strain of coronavirus, which took 800 lives and infected about 8,000 people in 2002-03.
Li Weliang raises alarm over pneumonia cases
On Dec. 30, Li examined the medical report of a patient whose condition was similar to SARS. Mistaking the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) for SARS, Li shared the information with his former medical school classmates. "Seven cases of SARS confirmed," he wrote in a WeChat group, Sixth Tone reported.
The first case of novel coronavirus infection was confirmed on Dec. 31 in Wuhan, the capital of China's Hubei province.
Police detained him for 'rumor-mongering'
In a post on the micro-blogging site Weibo, Li recounted: "After I sent the message, the police found me and made me sign an official letter of criticism". The Wuhan police reprimanded him for "making untrue comments" that had "severely disturbed the social order".
In the letter, police told him to stop his "illegal behavior". "We hope you can calm down and reflect on your behavior," the letter read.
"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?," Li was warned.
China's highest judicial authority comes to Li's rescue
On Thursday, the Supreme People's Court took to Weibo to criticize the conduct of the Wuhan police. The court said that though the doctor had mistaken novel coronavirus for SARS, his information wasn't completely untrue.
"If the public listened to this 'rumor' at that time , and adopted measures such as wearing a mask, strict disinfection, and avoiding going to the wildlife market based on the panic about SARS, this may be a better way for us to prevent and control new pneumonia today," the court said.
Li confirms being infected with 2019-nCoV
"Today's nucleic acid (novel coronavirus) test came back positive. Everything is settled now - it's finally confirmed," he wrote on Weibo. Working at the front-line dealing with coronavirus cases, Li has now been admitted in an intensive care unit, after he developed cough and fever. His parents are also hospitalized with similar symptoms.
China's Hubei province and its capital Wuhan are the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak, where more than 90% of the cases and fatalities have been reported. Around 12,000 cases from around the world and 259 fatalities, all in mainland China, have been reported till now.