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Cover Focus | Mar/Apr '20

In Memoriam: Li Wenliang, MD

Li Wenliang, MD, an ophthalmologist in Wuhan, China, died on February 7. Dr. Li died from COVID-19 after first raising alarm about the novel coronavirus in late December. He was 34 years old.

On December 30, 2019, Dr. Li used the Chinese social media platform Weibo to message his medical school colleagues about a cluster of illnesses resembling severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Seven patients at his place of employment, Wuhan Central Hospital, had been quarantined as a result, he said. Days after his message was posted, Chinese officials forced Dr. Li to sign a document stating that he had made false comments that had “severely disturbed the social order.”1

Following the incident, Dr. Li returned to work, where he contracted the virus from an asymptomatic glaucoma patient on January 10. Dr. Li was hospitalized on January 12 and tested positive for COVID-19 on February 1. After numerous conflicting reports regarding his condition, the hospital confirmed Dr. Li’s death on February 7.

In an interview with The New York Times following his diagnosis, Dr. Li said, “If the officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier, I think it would have been a lot better. There should have been more openness and transparency.”2

Dr. Li is survived by his wife, who is pregnant, and their first child. On March 11, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic.

1. Lewis S. Chinese doctor who sounded the alarm on coronavirus dies of the illness. CBS. February 6, 2020. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-li-wenliang-chinese-doctor-whistleblower-coronavirus-dies-of-illness-wuhan/. Accessed March 1, 2020.

2. Buckley C, Myers SL. As new coronavirus spread, China’s old habits delayed fight. The New York Times. February 7, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/01/world/asia/china-coronavirus.html. Accessed March 1, 2020.