The doctor who first identified the effects of 2019-nCoV (2019 novel coronavirus), Li Wenliang, 34, died today after being diagnosed with 2019-nCoV and hospitalized for emergency treatment. He was 34 years old.
Li first sounded the alarm after seeing patients presenting in Wuhan with an unusual pneumonia he compared to SARS. His email warning to other physician colleagues met with a rebuke from the Chinese government which allegedly threatened him should he continued to “spread rumors,” even in medical circles. He complied. He contracted the virus. He died.
Li’s story is reminiscent of Soviet scientist Valery Legasov, who first reported the dangerous effects of the Chernobyl nuclear power accident and was rebuked and threatened by the government for doing so. When Legasov went public at an international scientific meeting, he was exiled to obscurity until he died from effects working in Chernobyl on the mitigation efforts after the accident. The manuscript of his story, smuggled out of Russia, became the basis of the HBO Miniseries “Chernobyl.”
Dr. Li didn’t live that long.
The hospital earlier today had denied that a doctor linked with sounding the alarm on the virus had died from it, saying he was alive after receiving “life saving treatment.”
Growing public anger with the mistakes of local Chinese leadership are said to be now mixed with hope that national government quarantines can control it. In a UPI article today writer Elizabeth Shim said “The outbreak of the deadly coronavirus in Wuhan, China, may have shaken the Chinese people’s faith in their government, but with public outrage mostly directed at local officials, China’s central government could be consolidating power amid widespread fear.”
Jennifer Huang Bouey, a senior policy researcher and Tang Chair in China Policy Studies at the RAND Corp. in Washington, says early mistakes are responsible for the outbreak of 2019-nCoV, which has infected more than 28,000 people worldwide and killed 565.
To date only two deaths outside have been linked to the virus outside mainland China — one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines. 24 countries have recorded at least one confirmed case of the disease, according to data from the World Health Organization.
Richard A. Lee is a retired human services executive and the author of the technothriller novel “HIGH GROUND”