KARACHI/ BEIJING (ENNS/MD) The coronavirus crisis in China is deepening as the number of people infected by the virus has reached 31,000 and a doctor who was punished after raising alarm about the outbreak died from the pathogen (suffering, passion and genēs “producer of” an infectious agent, or simply a germ) on Friday.
More than 630 people have now been killed by a virus that ophthalmologist Li Wenliang and colleagues had first brought to light in late December, 2019.
The disease has since spread across China, prompting the government to lock down cities of tens of millions of people, while global panic has risen as more than 240 cases have emerged in two dozen countries.
A quarantined cruise ship in Japan now has 61 confirmed cases.
Li, 34, died early Friday, Wuhan Central Hospital said in a post on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform, an announcement that triggered grief on social media — over a doctor who was hailed a hero — and anger over the government’s handling of the crisis.
“He is a hero who warned others with his life,” a fellow Wuhan doctor wrote on Weibo after reports of his death emerged. “Those fat officials who live on public money, may you die from a snowstorm,” wrote one angry Weibo user.
His death also highlights the enormous risks that frontline doctors have taken to treat patients in overwhelmed and under-equipped hospitals in Wuhan, the quarantined city of 11 million people where the virus emerged in December.
Medical staff are overstretched and lack sufficient protective gear, the deputy governor of Hubei province admitted Thursday.
Li sent out a message about the new coronavirus to colleagues on December 30 in Wuhan — the central city at the epicentre of the crisis — but was later among eight whistleblowers summoned by police for “rumour-mongering.”
He later contracted the disease while treating a patient. Censors even appeared to struggle with out how to deal with his death.
Analysts have said that local authorities played down the extent of the outbreak in early January because they were holding political meetings at the time and wanted to project an aura of stability.
The first fatality was reported on January 11. The death toll has since soared to 630, with 73 more reported on Friday and an additional 3,000 new infections.
Some 56 million people in Wuhan and surrounding cities have been ordered to stay home, while several countries have banned arrivals from China and advised their citizens to leave.
Two cruise ships carrying thousands of holidaymakers in Hong Kong and Japan have been placed under quarantine as authorities test people for infections.
On Friday another 41 people tested positive aboard the Diamond Princess in Japan, bringing the total of infected cases on the ship to 61,
There were 3,700 people aboard the ship when it arrived in Japanese waters.
The outbreak has nevertheless been declared a global health emergency.