Doctor Who Warned Of Coronavirus Days Before Epidemic Hit Arrested In Raid

by : Julia Banim on : 03 Feb 2020 13:51
Coronavirus doctorCoronavirus doctorNYT/PA Images

A doctor in China who warned fellow medics about the coronavirus outbreak days before it became an epidemic was arrested during a nighttime police raid at his home.

Dr. Li Wenliang, who works at a hospital in Wuhan, sent a series of chilling messages to a group chat of medical students on December 30, informing them he had been ‘quarantined in the emergency department’. At this time, just seven patients had been confirmed as having been infected.

One group chat member described this information as being ‘so frightening’ in a reply, enquiring whether the situation could become as serious as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic of 2002 which began in China and left 800 people dead.

Dr Li WenliangDr Li WenliangThe New York Times

According to a report in The New York Times, health authority officials in Wuhan summoned Dr. Li in the middle of the night, and demanded to know why he had chosen to tell others about the quarantine.

Just three days later, officers compelled Dr. Li to sign a statement which described his warning about the infection as having been ‘illegal behaviour’.

Authorities reportedly continually played down just how dangerous the infection was during those first crucial weeks, leaving the public perilously unaware of the urgent need to protect themselves.


This reluctance to go public was reportedly politically motivated in part, with local officials having been preparing for their annual congresses in January. Officials continued to declare there had been no further infections, even as the cases piled up.

Coronavirus ChinaCoronavirus ChinaPA

On December 31, the day after Dr. Li’s message, officers announced they were investigating eight people for spreading rumours about the virus. That same day, Wuhan’s health commission made a statement declaring there to be no cause for alarm, with the outbreak describe as ‘preventable and controllable’.

This early inaction ultimately led to the government being unable to contain the infection, enabling it to become an epidemic even graver than the SARS outbreak.


By the time authorities finally begun taking serious action on January 20, the infection had taken a terrible hold over the country and its people.

Senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, Yanzhong Huang, told The New York Times:

This was an issue of inaction. There was no action in Wuhan from the local health department to alert people to the threat.

Coronavirus outbreakCoronavirus outbreakPA Images

At the time of writing, the coronavirus has killed at least 304 people in China and has infected over 14,380 worldwide.

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Julia Banim

Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.

Topics: News, China, Coronavirus, doctor, Doctor Li Wenliang, epidemic, Wuhan


The New York Times
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