Fury over death of hero coronavirus doc as China CENSORS freedom of speech demands – The SunFebruary 7, 2020
CHINESE authorities are facing mounting public backlash over the death of whistleblowing Chinese doctor Li Wenliang, with unprecedented demands for freedom of speech.
But in a bizarre twist, online posts mourning the hero doctor – who was detained for first warning the public about coronavirus in December last year – have been quickly censored from all social media sites.
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Dr Li Wenliang was hailed a hero by the Chinese public after he sent a message to fellow medics about a SARS-like virus spreading in Wuhan, the epicentre of the epidemic.
He was detained by police for “spreading false rumours” about the deadly disease’s outbreak on January 3, and forced to sign a document that said he had breached the law and “seriously disrupted social order.”
The doctor was then allowed to return to work as the infection began spreading among the population in Wuhan city and overwhelming the healthcare system.
But on January 10, despite being gagged, he took to the popular Chinese social media site Weibo to let the outside world know he was developing a fever.
By the end of the month he was diagnosed with coronavirus and yesterday, the Global Times reported he had died.
According to Chinese site Pear Video, Dr Li's wife is due to give birth in June.
The death of the 34-year-old medic marks a pivotal moment in the coronavirus epidemic, as authorities struggle to contain public anger over official mishandling of the outbreak that has killed more than 600 people.
It also threatens the Chinese government’s narrative that the rapidly evolving crisis is under control and will be beaten.
On Friday, Chinese President Xi Jinping said the nation was "fully confident and capable of defeating the epidemic".
Following the doctor’s death, China’s social media was awash with posts expressing immense anger and grief.
It was the top-read topic on China’s microblogging site Weibo, with more than 1.5bn views.
The top two trending hashtags on the website were "Wuhan government owes Dr Li Wenliang and apology" and "We want freedom of speech" – but both hashtags were quickly censored.
It was also heavily discussed in private WeChat messaging groups, where locals expressed outrage and sadness.
It has since been revealed there was government involvement in the announcement of exactly when Dr Li had died.
He was initially declared dead at 21:30 on Thursday (13:30GMT) by state media outlet the Global Times.
Hours later the report was contradicted – with claims Dr Li had rather been given a treatment known as ECMO, which keeps a person's heart pumping.
Journalists and doctors at the scene said government officials had intervened, with official media outlets told to change their reports to say the doctor was still being treated.
But early on Friday, reports said doctors could not save Dr Li and his time of death was 02:58 on Friday.
The strong public reaction Di Li’s death appears to have drawn the top leadership’s attention.
China's anti-corruption agency, the National Supervisory Commission, announced on Friday that it is sending a team to Hubei to conduct a "comprehensive investigation into the problems reported by the public concerning Doctor Li Wenliang”.
The Chinese government has been facing widespread criticism from the public over the handling of the outbreak.
From when the Hubei province confirmed its first coronavirus-infected patient in early December until mid-January when there was a clear sign of human-to-human transmission and a potential outbreak, the local government had tried to limit the information flow.
The government has now admitted "shortcomings and deficiencies" in its response to the virus, which has now killed 636 people and infected 31,161 in mainland China.
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