Health officials have become increasingly critical of the response that the Chinese government has given to the recent outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Critics say that the virus could have been contained much earlier, saving countless lives and sparing tens of thousands from infection if the Chinese government was not so secretive in the early days of the outbreak. It appears that China has not been as transparent as initially believed and that there has been an active campaign in the country to silence whistleblowers and intimidate people out of sharing information about the virus.
One of the earliest and most reputable of these whistleblowers was Li Wenliang, a 34-year-old doctor working in Wuhan who died this week after contracting the coronavirus, according to CNN.
Li knew that something was seriously wrong in Wuhan in late December when an unusually high number of patients came through the hospital very sick from pneumonia, with a virus that seemed very similar to SARS, the coronavirus that killed hundreds and infected millions nearly 20 years ago in China. On December 30, Li made a post in his medical school alumni group on the Chinese messaging app WeChat about the conditions at the hospital and told his friends to be careful. It didn't take long before screenshots of the post went viral across WeChat, where it was picked up by international media sources.
Li was rounded up along with a half dozen other medical professionals at Wuhan hospital who were sharing information about the virus online. The medics were heavily interrogated but were allowed to return home after agreeing to sign a statement promising that they will not share any more information about the outbreak.
Unfortunately, this was not where Li's problems ended. Just a week after his interaction with police, on January 12, the doctor was hospitalized with a suspected case of the coronavirus. Li remained in the hospital for nearly a month, but it was not entirely clear what was wrong with him, because the coronavirus tests were reading a false negative. By February 1st, he was officially tested positive for the coronavirus and then passed away just a few days later, on February 6th.
Li is also one of the first names and faces to be associated with the virus, and his death has struck close to home with many people because he was so young and healthy when he contracted the illness, unlike the cases that were reported early on, who were already sick with some other illness.
The Chinese government is very strict about the flow of information, this is why they have their own government-sponsored social media websites, so the information shared within the country, and especially coming in and going out, can be controlled by the CCP. This information flow is taken especially seriously in times of a public health crisis, and everyone is expected to trust the information they get from the government without question, and if they dare to share anything that is at all different from the official statements they are accused of disrupting national "harmony."