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Dr. Li’s Death in Wuhan and certain people’s outcry over his death

Nathan Rich has been putting out many incredible commentaries on China on Youtube for the last few years. And this most recent one on Dr. Li’s death certainly ranks among the best commentaries I have seen in English (or Chinese even) on Dr. Li’s death in Wuhan.

Dr. Li was one of the earliest doctors to notice a SARs like virus going around in Wuhan and had “tweeted” about it on his Weibo account. Local government officials would sanction him about it – asking him to sign some papers admitting what he did was wrong and not to do it again. Later when a concurrent government investigation revealed that a new virus was truly going around, the government retracted his sanctions. Dr. Li would go on to work on the front lines … but later – just a few days ago – die from the virus.

Some people have gone anti-government over this. In the Youtube commentary, Nathan Rich noted that he can understand how people thought Dr. Li was a “hero” and that the government has erred, however he also noted that the most critical thing now is to save lives and go forward, and not distract from the government’s valiant efforts. He posited for those who are angry: even had people listen to Dr. Li’s original (then unsubstantiated) claims, would we really be better off?

Yes, more people might have more masks in the initial days and more might have been more diligent about washing hands, etc. But almost certainly, judging by people’s behavior since the Wuhan quarantine, people would have fled Wuhan and tried to cover up the fact that they might be virus carriers. So, while, on a personal level, leaving town would have been the “human” thing to do, it most certainly would been the worst thing to do in terms of saving lives and reducing the spread of the virus.

Would we be better off today had people listened to Dr. Li (and others’) initial warnings … or much worse off?

In comparing West to East, people have often identified an individual vs. collective people. That may also be an interesting angle to look at Dr. Li’s case. On a individual level, the right thing to do after learning there is a new virus spreading in Wuhan is to flee, to save yourself. But on a collective level, the right thing is to stay put, so you don’t unnecessarily speed up the spread of the disease to rest of China and rest of the world. What should one do?

There is another angle that Nathan did not cover about Dr. Li’s case, and that is the fact that Dr. Li’s claim was unsubstantiated when he “tweeted” about it in social media. Is it right for a doctor who anecdotally sees a disease to spread what he thinks is going on through social media, even if it may result in public pandemonium, even if he did not have evidence? Dr. Li may turn out to be right this time, but what if another Dr. Li in the future turn out to be wrong?

Should doctors – or health workers – e.g. nurses, tech, administrators, etc. – have a right to spread what they see as “on the ground” to the world through social media? Or should there be a “chain of command” for things to be sorted out before public health information is properly relayed to the public?

Despite mistakes that were – that will be – inevitably made in a major effort like this, I don’t see anything systematically wrong with the way China handled the current coronovirus or Dr. Li. (Dr. Li was sanctioned for spreading unsubstantiated facts but that sanction was later retracted when he turned out to be right.) There will definitely be things we will be able to learn from the Wuhan experience, and that’s a good thing. Hindsight will always be 20/20. But let’s use that experience to benefit the future, instead of make unfair allegations about the past?

Anyways, that’s my short commentary. I still plan to write my post on the Wuhan’s novel Coronavirus, but for now, without further adieu, below is Nathan’s recent post on Dr. Li and the Coronavirus.

  1. wwww1234
    February 10th, 2020 at 20:21 | #1

    project syndicate: Feb 6, 2020 ELIZABETH DREW

    3 Comments on this article

    · GODFREE ROBERTS Feb 10, 2020

    Xi’s power has prevented the recurrence of America’s H1N1 debacle, so perhaps we should not be so quick to condemn it.

    America’s 2009 H1N1 swine flu infected 60 million and initially killed a minimum of 18,449 cases that year, but the final tally was far worse than that, with close to 300,000 deaths, according to the CDC. The U.S. H1N1 swine flu numbers were vastly underestimated and updated three years later, because that is the nature of such viral outbreaks which don’t care which country they started in. At the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy website, the CDC’s 18,449 total deaths number was “…regarded as WELL BELOW THE TRUE TOTAL, mainly because many people who die of flu-related causes are not tested for the disease.”

    “The CDC researchers estimate that the H1N1 2009 pandemic virus caused 201,200 respiratory deaths and another 83,300 deaths from cardiovascular disease associated with H1N1 infections.” Total: 284,000 deaths. Shocking, isn’t it?

    I don’t recall xenophobic anti-America attacks across the globe, do you? In fact, do you recall it took six months for the U.S. to declare a national emergency? Did any government from the onset in April 2009 through the end in April 2010, including the month of June, when H1N1 was declared an international emergency global pandemic, then send out a notice to its citizens that they should leave the United States? Close their borders to American travelers? Nope, not one.

    During the 2009 outbreak, did anyone accuse the American medical and government authorities of hiding the numbers? Were Americans with hidden cameras strolling into the Mayo Clinic to PROVE how many people were really dying? Was there a travel ban for any length of time to and from the United States? Did China, Germany, Japan or any other country close their border to American travelers?

    Read MoreReply

    o CARL BUZAWA Feb 10, 2020

    Perhaps Godfrey doesn’t realize that the scientific consensus is that H1N1 Swine Flu arose first in Mexico, not the USA

    Nice try in trying to deflect the blame properly placed on Xi’s insane desire to control all the press and thoughts within the PRC. His harsh methods to suppress news about the million Uighurs imprisoned for “reeducation”, the riots in Hong Kong because of his efforts to reneg on the agreement of One China, Two Systems, and the absolute failure of his efforts to influence the elections in Taiwan…have now placed the world under the possibility of a pandemic.

    This virus, and all of the probable continuing loss of lives throughout China and the world may properly rest at his feet in Beijing even as the PRC will undoubtedly scramble to lay blame at some regional functionaries who simply followed the central plan of controlling information.

    Read MoreReply

    § GODFREE ROBERTS Feb 10, 2020

    It was America’s own CDC that identified H1N1.

    The US Government then waited SIX MONTHS before warning its citizens, by which time 59 million Americans had contracted the H1N1 virus, 265,000 were hospitalized as a result, and 12,000 died.

    The final tally was far worse, with 300,000 deaths, according to the CDC.

    Does anyone recall xenophobic anti-America attacks across the globe?

    Did any government send out a notice to its citizens that they should leave the United States?

    Close their borders to American travelers?.

    Did anyone accuse US medical and government authorities of hiding the numbers?

    Were Americans with hidden cameras strolling into the Mayo Clinic to PROVE how many people were really dying?

    Was there a travel ban for any length of time to and from the United States?

    Did China, Germany, Japan or any other country close their border to American travelers?

    I repeat, Coronavirus is a hit job. A media event, not an epidemic.

    Read lessReply

  2. Ngok Ming Cheung
    February 10th, 2020 at 21:00 | #2

    Dr. Li was a member of Chinese Communist Party. He was reprimanded for not following procedure by warning his fellow doctors in a chat group of possible recurring SARS epidemic. The reprimand was a mistake and revoked. But of course enemies of China and Western media took the opportunity to malign China and awarded him as a whistle blower. Dr Li and many other medical personnel have died in providing care during the epidemic. Just as Dr. Bethune died In Yenan in the 30s and memorialized by Mao in his essay. They are all heroes to Chinese people and will be remembered.

  3. wwww1234
    February 11th, 2020 at 09:47 | #3

    Dr. Li was an ophalmolgist, a specialty very remote from infectious disease or virology. There was no evidence to suggest the reprimand was a mistake. It was withdrawn when it was no longer needed after official confirmation was announced.

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