From dead, to alive, to dead again: How China handled virus doctor's death

2020-02-07 18:22

Chinese media's reporting of the death of coronavirus whistleblowing doctor Li Wenliang ignited online anger after he was first pronounced dead, then alive and, finally, dead again.

Li, 34, died early on Friday, Wuhan Central Hospital said in a post on China's Twitter-like Weibo platform, after contracting the virus while treating a patient.

Nationalist tabloid Global Times and state broadcaster CCTV first reported on Weibo that Li had died late Thursday - but their posts were deleted after the news became the top topic on the popular platform.

Chinese media outlets then said Li was under "emergency treatment", before finally announcing his death at about 03:00 am on Friday.

The hashtag "Dr. Li Wenliang dead" was the most searched topic on Weibo late on Thursday, with over a billion views and over 1.1 million comments.

But by Friday morning it had dropped out of the top 20 trending topics.

"The ranking seems to be manipulated," King-wa Fu, who studies Chinese censorship patterns at the University of Hong Kong, told AFP.

READ | SA still clear of coronavirus as tests in KZN come back negative

The handling of the news "looks similar to that after Liu Xiaobo's death," he said, referring to censorship following the 2017 death of the jailed Nobel peace laureate critical of the Chinese Communist Party.

"Some irregularities in handling the news of Li's death is perceived as politically motivated," Fu said.

Weibo users complained that their posts and comments on the doctor's death were being scrubbed on Weibo and messaging app WeChat, sparking anger at what was seen as an attempt by censors to mute public opinion.

ALSO READ | 'Severe' hospital bed shortage at China virus epicentre: officials

The confusion caused by official media reporting on the doctor's death reignited anger that authorities did not act quickly enough to inform the public and contain an epidemic that began unfolding in December.

Read more on:    china  |  coronavirus
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