A Chinese doctor who was silenced by police for warning about the coronavirus outbreak has been diagnosed with the disease.
Li Wenliang, 34, an ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital, sent a message in a chat group on December 30 to fellow doctors warning them of an outbreak.
He had noticed seven cases of a virus he thought looked like Sars, the virus which sparked a global epidemic in 2003.
The patients he treated were quarantined in his hospital and thought to have come from the seafood market in Wuhan where the outbreak is believed to have originated.
But four days after his warning he was called to a police station to sign a letter in which he was accused of “making false comments” that had “severely disturbed the social order”.
He was one of eight people identified by police for allegedly “spreading rumours”.
However, at the end of January, Dr Li published a copy of the letter on social network Weibo.
He described in his post how he started coughing on January 10, then suffered a fever the next day and two days later was in hospital himself. His parents also became ill and were taken to hospital, he said.
It wasn’t until January 20 that China declared the coronavirus outbreak an emergency.
Dr Li posted on January 30 that he had been diagnosed with coronavirus.
He wrote: “Today nucleic acid testing came back with a positive result, the dust has settled, finally diagnosed.”
The revelation over how the doctor was silenced came as Chinese leaders admitted “shortcomings and deficiencies” in the country’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
A meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee, chaired by President Xi Jinping, was reported by the official Xinhua news agency.
The report read: “In response to the shortcomings and deficiencies that were exposed responding to this epidemic, we must improve our national emergency management system and improve our abilities in handling urgent and dangerous tasks.”
On Tuesday, officials announced that the death toll in mainland China had risen to 425, with the total number of cases at 20,438 – an increase from the 361 deaths and 17,205 cases reported a day earlier.
A 39-year-old man has become the first coronavirus death reported in Hong Kong.
The man travelled to Hong Kong from Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak in China.
Meanwhile, Chinese scientists said they have more evidence that the coronavirus probably originated in bats.
In a study published in the journal Nature, Shi Zhen-Li and colleagues at the Wuhan Institute of Virology reported that genome sequences from seven patients were 96% identical to a bat coronavirus.
Scientists suspect the outbreak began at a seafood market in Wuhan where wild animals were on sale and in contact with people.
British officials are still trying to trace 239 people who flew from the Chinese city of Wuhan to the UK before travel restrictions associated with the coronavirus came into force.
Efforts to track down and assess the travellers, who left Wuhan after the virus emerged, began last week as the crisis intensified, leading British Airways and Virgin Atlantic to suspend UK-China flights.
A total of 94 UK nationals and family members have been evacuated to Britain from Wuhan, the city in Hubei province at the epicentre of the outbreak, on two flights which arrived on Friday and Sunday.
Evacuees are now undergoing 14 days in quarantine at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral.
One person was taken to a different UK hospital after falling ill on the second flight back.
The Department of Health said on Monday that 326 UK tests for coronavirus have concluded, of which 324 are negative.
Two people, a University of York student and one of their relatives, continue to be treated for coronavirus in the specialist infectious diseases unit at Newcastle Royal Victoria Infirmary.