Wuhan

Was the Wuhan Doctor a Brave Whistleblower Silenced by the Government?

According to the mainstream narrative, a brave whistleblower in Wuhan was silenced/arrested by the Chinese government when he tried to warn the public about the new coronavirus. The doctor, Li Wenliang, also just died from the virus. While his death is tragic, how truthful is the media’s narrative? Here are the facts:

He was an eye doctor: Dr. Li Wenliang was an ophthalmologist, not a virologist. He was not an expert on virus; and he didn’t have any tangible scientific evidence when he raised the alarm.

He was wrong about the virus: He claimed that the virus was SARS, and he was wrong about that.

He didn’t warn the public: A whistle blower, by definition, tries to warn the public. In this case, he sent his opinion to seven of his colleagues in a private chat group. But someone took a screenshot of his messages and posted it in a public forum

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The timeline of events shows he wasn’t the first doctor to warn about the virus and he wasn’t ahead of the government: On the evening of Dec 30, Li Wenliang raised the alarm about the virus. However, what’s not mentioned in the US media is that earlier on the same day, the Chinese CDC (Center for Disease Control) made a public announcement about the new virus and declared a Level 2 emergency response. More importantly, other Wuhan doctors — Zhang Jixian, in particular — had already noticed warning signs in CT scans of patients on Dec 26 and had escalated the issue to Beijing. Thus, it’s likely that he read the government publication, perhaps talked to other doctors, and concluded that SARS had returned. Here’s the timeline picture from a paper published by the renowned New England Journal of Medicine:

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The government didn’t hide anything: The government followed scientific procedures. It couldn’t say anything concrete about the virus until a full genomic sequence was concluded, which was published on Jan 10. It takes some time to figure out what the virus is, how it behaves, how dangerous it is, where it came from, whether it can jump from humans to humans etc. Originally, the understanding was it came from the Wuhan wet market where wild life was sold. Thus, on Dec 31, the government shut down that so-called sea food market.

He was not arrested: While some media makes sensational claims, he was only reprimanded and made to sign a document saying that he wouldn’t spread rumors. This is a very strange thing in China, for sure. The police could have simply asked his boss to warn him.

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Hindsight is 20-20: Of course, looking back, the government and scientists could have warned the hospitals in Wuhan, told the staff to wear masks, and helped them identify and isolate the coronavirus patients. However, at that point — in late December — nobody had died from the virus and the sample size of patients was only about 40. Tough call.

While it’s sad that the doctor died from the virus, there’s also a lot of geopolitics involved here. The US media is rushing to compare this to Chernobyl and fantasizing about angry Chinese people rising and overthrowing the communist party. Sensationalism and fake news always triumph calm analysis …