Li Wenliang (李文亮; 12 October 1986 – 7 February 2020) , a ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital who warned about a new coronavirus strain in December 2019 on WeChat to fellow colleagues, became a whistleblower when his warnings were later shared publicly.

On 3 January 2020, Wuhan police arrested and admonished him for “making false comments on the Internet”. After release, Li returned to work, but soon contracted the virus from an infected patient and died on 7 February 2020.

On 30 December 2019, Li saw a patient’s report which showed a positive result with a high confidence level for SARS coronavirus tests. At 17:43, he wrote in a private WeChat group of his medical school classmates: “7 confirmed cases of SARS were reported [to hospital] from Huanan Seafood Market.”

He also posted the patient’s examination report and CT scan image. At 18:42, he added “the latest news is, it has been confirmed that they are coronavirus infections, but the exact virus strain is being subtyped”.

Li asked the WeChat group members to inform their families and friends to take protective measures. He was upset when the discussion gained a wider audience than he expected.

After screenshots of his WeChat messages were shared on Chinese forum and gained huge attention, his manager talked to him, blaming him for leaking the information.

On 3 January 2020, police from the Wuhan Public Security Bureau investigated the case and interrogated Li, giving him a warning notice and censuring him for “making false comments on the Internet”. He was made to sign a letter of admonition promising not to do it again. The police warned him that if he failed to learn from the admonition and continued to violate the law he would be prosecuted.

On 4 February, the Chinese Supreme People’s Court said that the eight Wuhan citizens should not have been punished as what they said was not entirely false. It wrote on social media: “It might have been a fortunate thing if the public had believed the ‘rumors’ then and started to wear masks and carry out sanitization measures, and avoid the wild animal market.”

The death of Li provoked considerable grief and anger on the social media which became extended to a demand for freedom of speech.

Wuhan citizens placed flowers and blew whistles at Wuhan Central Hospital, where Li worked and died, as a tribute to him. On the Internet, people spontaneously launched the activity themed “I blew a whistle for Wuhan tonight,” where everyone kept all the lights off in their homes for five minutes, and later blew whistles and waved glitter outside of their windows for five minutes to mourn Li.

Li is survived by his wife and one child. The wife was pregnant with their second child when he died. When he began showing symptoms, he booked a hotel room to avoid the possibility of infecting his family, before being hospitalized on 12 January. Despite this precaution, his parents became infected with coronavirus.

Edited by staff

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