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On Friday, February 7, Dr. Li Wenliang, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist, died at Wuhan Central Hospital.
The hospital’s social media account said that the doctor was “unfortunately infected during the fight against the pneumonia epidemic of the new coronavirus infection” and that they “deeply regret and mourn” his passing.
The doctor was an early whistleblower against the threat coronavirus posed. As the virus was still in its infancy in late December, Li warned about its potential to cause widespread harm.
He was subsequently reprimanded by local police for spreading “illegal and false” information about the virus.
Before his passing, Li spoke with The New York Times via text message about the government’s early response to the virus. He argued that the government tried to suppress any news of an outbreak, hindering the early fight against the virus.
“If the officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier, I think it would have been a lot better. There should be more openness and transparency,” he said.
As the true scope of the virus became apparent, Chinese officials ramped up their fight against the virus, declaring strict travel bans in and out of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, and other affected areas. A new hospital was built in 10 days specifically to support coronavirus patients.
As of Thursday, 31,161 people have been infected globally by the virus. Of those cases, over 600 have died in China and 1 has died in the Philippines.
Chinese scientists say they have already determined the genetic structure of the virus. Researchers around the world are now scrambling to find a viable vaccine to stop it from spreading.
Researchers at the US National Institutes of Health think they may possibly be close to creating a vaccine that they hope to be testing by April.
Meanwhile, scientists at the University of Texas are trying to convince US and Chinese authorities to test a vaccine that was created during the fight against SARS over a decade ago to see if it might be effective against the coronavirus.
SARS and the coronavirus are both from the same family of viruses, so researchers are optimistic that the SARS vaccine might protect against the Wuhan virus.
“Ours is already manufactured and could take off pretty quickly, but there’s still no road map for what you do to make a vaccine in the midst of a devastating public health outbreak, said Dr. Peter Hotez of Baylor College of Medicine.