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Whistleblower doctor who raised alarm about coronavirus dies from the illness

More than 630 people in China have now died from the virus.

Dr Li Wenliang
Dr Li Wenliang
Image: AP/PA Images

THE DEATH TOLL in mainland China’s coronavirus outbreak has risen to 636, authorities have announced.

The toll includes a doctor who got in trouble in the communist country for sounding an early warning about the disease threat.

Dr Li Wenliang (34) was an ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital in the city at the epicentre of the outbreak. He was reprimanded by the police for “spreading rumours” about the illness in late December, according to news reports.

Meanwhile Japan has said 41 new cases of coronavirus have been found on a cruise ship that is quarantined in Yokohama harbour.

That brings the total number of cases to 61 on the Diamond Princess ship.

The Diamond Princess and another docked cruise ship, the World Dream, with thousands of passengers and crew members remain under 14-day quarantines in Japan and Hong Kong.

Before today’s 41 further confirmed cases, 20 passengers who were found to have the virus were escorted off the Diamond Princess.

About 3,700 people have been confined aboard the ship.

“It’s going to be like a floating prison,” British passenger David Abel wrote on Facebook.

japan-china-outbreak The cruise ship Diamond Princess is docked at Yokohama Port. Source: Sadayuki Goto/Kyodo News via AP/PA

More than 3,600 people on the other quarantined ship, the World Dream, underwent screening after eight passengers were diagnosed with the virus.

Meanwhile, a newborn discovered to be infected 36 hours after birth has become the youngest known patient.

The number of people infected globally has risen to more than 31,000.

The outbreak has spread to around two dozen countries, triggering travel restrictions and quarantines around the world and a crisis inside the country of 1.4 billion.

‘Illegal behaviour’ 

Dr Li was among a number of medical professionals in Wuhan who tried to warn colleagues and others when the government did not, The New York Times reported earlier this week.

It said that after the mystery illness had stricken seven patients at a hospital, Li said of them in an online chat group on 30 December: “Quarantined in the emergency department.”

Another participant in the chat responded by wondering, “Is SARS coming again?” – a reference to the 2002-03 viral outbreak that killed hundreds, the newspaper said.

Wuhan health officials summoned Li in the middle of the night to demand he explain why he shared the information, and police later forced him to sign a statement admitting to “illegal behaviour”, the paper said.

“If the officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier,” Dr Li said in an interview in the Times via text messages, “I think it would have been a lot better. There should be more openness and transparency.”

China finished building a second new hospital yesterday to isolate and treat patients – a 1,500-bed centre in Wuhan.

Earlier this week, another rapidly constructed, 1,000-bed hospital in Wuhan with prefabricated wards and isolation rooms began taking patients.

Authorities also moved people with milder symptoms into makeshift hospitals at sport arenas, exhibition halls and other public spaces.

Altogether, more than 50 million people are under virtual quarantine in Hubei province in an unprecedented – and unproven – bid to bring the outbreak under control.

In Hong Kong, hospital workers demanding a shutdown of the territory’s border with mainland China are still on strike today.

The territory’s leader Carrie Lam announced a 14-day quarantine of all travellers entering the city from the mainland starting tomorrow, but the government has refused to seal the border entirely.

Taiwan has said it will refuse entry to all non-citizens or residents who have recently visited Hong Kong, Macao or China from today.

From Europe to Australia and the US, universities that host Chinese students or have study-abroad programmes are scrambling to assess the risks, and some are cancelling opportunities and prohibiting student travel.

The organisers of the Tokyo Olympics have again sought to allay fears that the 2020 Games could be postponed or cancelled because of the crisis.

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