The Chinese whistleblower who first sounded the alarm about coronavirus spreading in Wuhan was remembered on Sunday, a year after his death.
Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at a hospital in Wuhan, became one of the most visible figures in the early days of the outbreak when he tried to warn the world, but was reprimanded by police for ‘spreading rumours.’
The 34-year-old’s death from the virus on February 7, 2020 led to an outpouring of public mourning and rare expressions of anger online.
Dr Li had tried to warn fellow medics of a disease that looked like Sars – another deadly coronavirus.
But he was told by police to “stop making false comments” and was investigated for “spreading rumours.”
Dr Li was an eye doctor at a hospital in Wuhan – the central Chinese city where the first case of the coronavirus was detected at the end of 2019.
Dr Li’s death prompted a rare wave of grief and public anger over the Chinese government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak. As hospitals filled up in Wuhan, the government was accused of downplaying the severity of the virus and concealing the extent of its spread.
Only when anger reached fever pitch was Dr Li exonerated and honoured as a hero by the Chinese government.
Since then, more than 105 million people have been infected with coronavirus and 2.3 million have died with Covid-19 worldwide.
Freedom of speech is limited in China, where the government has promoted an official narrative hinged on its successful handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
China does routinely censor comments on social media.
But Dr Li’s personal page on Weibo – the Chinese equivalent of Twitter – has become a rare space for users to express themselves about the trauma of the coronavirus pandemic.