China’s top Communist Party investigators are looking into “relevant issues raised by the public” about a whistleblower doctor who was threatened by police after publicizing his concerns about the new virus and has now died from it. The party’s announcement Friday came as the death toll in mainland China rose to at least 636.
The outbreak has now infected more than 31,200 people worldwide.
Cruise ship passengers faced more woe as Japan reported 41 new cases on a quarantined ship and turned away another.
President Xi Jinping spoke by phone with U.S. President Donald Trump, who said the U.S. was working closely with China to help. Xi urged the U.S. to “respond reasonably” to the outbreak, echoing complaints that some countries are overreacting by restricting Chinese travelers. Those complaints come even while China keeps around 50 million residents of the hardest-hit city of Wuhan and surrounding areas under indefinite quarantine.
A look at the latest developments:
Following an online uproar over the government’s treatment of Dr. Li Wenliang, the ruling Communist Party said it was sending an investigation team to “fully investigate relevant issues raised by the public” regarding the case.
Li, 34, was one of eight medical professionals in Wuhan who tried to warn colleagues and others when the government did not. He wrote on his Weibo microblog account that on Dec. 3 he saw a test sample that indicated the presence of a coronavirus similar to SARS, which killed nearly 800 people in a 2002-2003 outbreak.
Li wrote that after he reported seven patients had contracted the virus, he was visited on Jan. 3 by police, who forced him to sign a statement admitting to having spread falsehoods and warning him of punishment if he continued.
Li wrote that he developed a cough on Jan. 10, fever on Jan. 11 and was hospitalized on Jan. 12, after which he began having trouble breathing. His death was confirmed early Friday, prompting a deluge of messages of mourning and outrage at the way he and the seven others were treated. Even the staunchly pro-government Global Times newspaper weighed in, noting that the eight whistleblowers’ treatment “was evidence of local authorities’ incompetence to tackle a contagious and deadly virus.”
Japan confirmed 41 new cases of the virus on the quarantined Diamond Princess, adding to 20 escorted off the ship earlier. The nearly 3,700 passengers and crew still on board remain under 14-day quarantines.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said foreign passengers on another ship, Holland America’s Westerdam, won’t be allowed into Japan. He said suspected virus patients were on board, but the Seattle-based operator denied anyone had virus.
The ship with more than 2,000 people was currently near Ishigaki, one of Okinawa’s outer islands, and was seeking another port, said Overseas Travel Agency official Mie Matsubara.