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China exonerates whistleblower doctor reprimanded for warning of coronavirus

China has vindicated a doctor who first warned about the coronavirus outbreak but was reprimanded by the Chinese authorities and later died of the disease. This has come as a startling admission of error by the ruling Communist Party that generally bodes no challenges to its authority.

India TV News Desk India TV News Desk
New Delhi Updated on: March 20, 2020 10:06 IST
China, whistleblower, doctor, coronavirus
Image Source : AP

China has vindicated whistleblower doctor reprimanded for warning of coronavirus

China has vindicated a doctor who first warned about the coronavirus outbreak but was reprimanded by the Chinese authorities and later died of the disease. This has come as a startling admission of error by the ruling Communist Party that generally bodes no challenges to its authority. The party's top disciplinary body said the police force in Wuhan had revoked its admonishment of Dr. Li Wenliang that had included a threat of arrest. 

It also said a “solemn apology" had been issued to Li's family and that two police officers, identified only by their surnames, had been issued “disciplinary punishments" for the original handling of the matter. After seeing thousands of new cases daily at the peak of the city's outbreak a month ago, Wuhan on Friday had its second consecutive day with no new confirmed or suspected cases.

No new COVID-19 domestic case in China

The National Health Commission said all of the 39 new cases recorded Friday in China were brought from overseas, showing that rigid travel restrictions and social distancing requirements appear to have had their desired effect.

China has loosened some travel restrictions in Hubei, the province surrounding Wuhan, although its provincial border remains closed and Wuhan itself remains under lockdown. Officials say they will only lift the quarantine after Wuhan goes 14 consecutive days with no new cases.

Police reprimanded eight doctors including Li for warning friends on social media

Police in December had reprimanded eight doctors including Li for warning friends on social media about the emerging threat. China's supreme court later criticized the police, but the ruling party continued to tighten its grip on information about the outbreak.

The party has faced similar accusations of bungling or thuggish behavior following previous disasters. They include the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, a 2005 chemical spill that disrupted water supplies to millions of people in China’s northeast, sales of tainted milk that sickened thousands of children and the failure of private finance companies after the global economic crisis.

In each case, officials were accused of trying to conceal or delay information people said they needed to protect themselves.

The party often responds by allowing the public to vent temporarily, then uses its control of media and the internet to stifle criticism. Critics who persist can be jailed on vague charges of spreading rumors or making trouble.

The treatment of Li's case may reflect concerns among the leadership about public anger over the failure to properly honor the sacrifices of front-line health workers while praising the party and its head, Xi Jinping, who has tightened controls on society since taking power in 2012.

The most powerful Chinese leader since at least the 1980s, Xi gave himself the option of remaining president for life by changing the Chinese constitution in 2018 to remove a two-term limit.

In Wuhan, local leaders were accused of telling doctors in December not to publicize the spreading virus in order to avoid casting a shadow over the annual meeting of a local legislative body.

Doctors were ordered to delete posts on social media

As the virus spread, doctors were ordered to delete posts on social media that appealed for donations of medical supplies. That prompted complaints authorities were more worried about image than public safety.

Li was detained by police after warning about the virus on a social media group for his former classmates.

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