(CBS News) — A Chinese doctor who was warned by his government to stop “making false comments” after trying to raise the alarm about the new coronavirus before it was even identified has died of the virus, according to China’s state-run media. Ophthalmologist Li Wenliang worked at one of the main hospitals in Wuhan, the city at the center of the outbreak that has now killed 565 people, all but two in China.
BBC News reported earlier this week that Li had noticed a cluster of cases of a flu-like illness near the end of December, which appeared to him to be similar to the SARS virus that swept across the world in 2003. He sent a message to fellow clinicians on a group chat warning them to wear protective clothing.
Just four days later, officials visited him and accused him of having “severely disturbed the social order.” They presented him with an official letter, stating: “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?” He signed it.
Weeks later he posted a video on social media to say he had been diagnosed with the new virus. He has been widely lauded in China as a hero and “whistleblower” for trying to spread word of the new illness. Senior Chinese officials have admitted to “shortcomings and deficiencies” in the country’s initial response to the virus.