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  • By Keng Jin Lee
    BBC, CNN
    Comprehensive Ophthalmology

    Li Wenliang, MD, an ophthalmologist working in Wuhan where the coronavirus epidemic originated, has died.

    Wuhan Central Hospital confirmed his death on February 7 after a series of conflicting reports about his condition.

    The 33-year-old doctor was the first to raise the alarm about the coronavirus in late December. Using the Chinese social media platform Weibo, Li attempted to warn his colleagues about a cluster of SARS-like pneumonia cases. As his posts went viral, he realized that he “would probably be punished." Within days, he was summoned by Chinese officials and forced to sign a letter accusing him of "making false comments" that had "severely disturbed the social order". A copy of that letter was later posted on Weibo.

    Following the incident, Dr. Li returned to work and, unfortunately, contracted the virus from an asymptomatic glaucoma patient in early January. In several interviews with Chinese media, he said that the patient eventually developed a fever and CT scans showed an unknown virus in her lung. Soon after, he started coughing, became febrile and was hospitalized. Tests confirmed he was infected with the coronavirus on Jan. 31.  

    In an interview with Pear Video, Dr. Li’s mother spoke of her grief. Her son had been stable for several weeks, she said, and his condition only deteriorated in the last 2 days. She and Li’s father both contracted the coronavirus, but recovered.

    The news of his demise has sparked a public outpouring of anger and grief. Many have hailed him a martyr and a national hero for his attempts to warn the public. The Chinese Ophthalmological Society (COS) posted a public tribute to Dr. Li on Friday. 

    Dr. Li leaves behind a child and a wife, who is pregnant. According to the latest figures, the virus has infected more than 40,000 people and killed 910.