Doctor who first warned Chinese government about coronavirus confirmed dead

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Li Wenliang was reprimanded when disease emerged in Wuhan

One of the doctors who warned Chinese authorities of the deadly coronavirus when it first emerged has died, according to multiple news reports.

Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist, was 34.

There was early confusion about whether Li had indeed died as Wuhan Central Hospital continued to list him in critical condition amid conflicting news accounts.

Multiple state media outlets including Global Times and People's Daily, the ruling Communist Party’s official newspaper, had earlier said Li had died, but later deleted their reports, according to CNN.

By 4 p.m. Thursday, however, the hospital had officially announced Li’s death.

Li, according to Chinese media, was found to have been infected with the disease Saturday.

He had been in critical condition, according to the hospital and several state media outlets.

On Dec. 30, Li warned his medical school classmates in an online chat group that a Sars-like illness had stricken several patients in a Wuhan hospital and that all of them were quarantined in the emergency department.

Later that day, local health authorities announced the city had confirmed 27 cases of a new type of virus, most of them linked to a seafood market.

However, Li, along with seven other doctors who shared information about the outbreak, was summoned to the local police and forced to sign a letter promising not to make any further disclosures.

»MORE: Almost 30,000 infected worldwide by coronavirus

“We are very sorry to hear the loss of any frontline worker who is committed to care for patients. We should celebrate his life and mourn his death with his colleagues,” Michael Ryan, director of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies program, said Thursday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention described the coronavirus as explosive and unprecedented Monday and warned there are likely going to be more cases popping up in the U.S. soon.

On Thursday morning, Chinese health officials reported 563 deaths and 28,018 confirmed cases on the mainland.

In addition, Hong Kong has had 22 cases, including one death. Macao has had 10 cases. Most of the deaths have been in central Hubei province, where illnesses from the new type of coronavirus were first detected in December.

Explore»RELATED: What is the Wuhan coronavirus?

The federal government has issued an emergency order allowing its coronavirus test to be used by state health labs nationwide, speeding up efforts to detect and contain new cases of the mysterious new illness. Since the first cases of the pneumonia-like virus were confirmed in the U.S. last month, the test could only be done at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s own labs.

»MORE: Tokyo Olympics downplay coronavirus fears

But the rapidly growing outbreak, which is concentrated in China, has since been declared a public health emergency in the U.S. as officials race to keep the number of cases in this country as low as possible.

As the coronavirus spreads around the world, so does misinformation.

The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global public health emergency. Last week, President Donald Trump also declared a public health emergency. In his State of the Union address Tuesday, Trump said the United States was coordinating with China on the response to the outbreak.

Nearly 40 airlines worldwide have cut about 25,000 flights to, from or within China compared with two weeks ago.

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