BEIJING (REUTERS, AFP) - The head of a leading hospital in China's central city of Wuhan, the epicentre of a coronavirus outbreak, died of the disease on Tuesday (Feb 18), state television said, becoming the second prominent Chinese doctor to have succumbed to the pathogen.
Dr Liu Zhiming, the director of Wuhan Wuchang Hospital, died at 10.30am, after “all-out rescue efforts failed”, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
Earlier this month, millions in China mourned the death of Dr Li Wenliang, a doctor who was previously reprimanded for issuing an early warning about the coronavirus.
Dr Li’s death prompted a national outpouring of grief as well as anger against the authorities, who were accused of mishandling the crisis.
Tens of thousands of medical workers have been fighting to contain the spread of the coronavirus, believed to have first surfaced in a seafood market in Wuhan, the capital of the central province of Hubei.
As in the case of Dr Li's death, there was confusion on the Chinese Internet about Dr Liu's condition on Monday night.
On Monday night, the Communist Party propaganda department of the Hubei Health Commission wrote in a social media post that Dr Liu had died.
But it said in a subsequent post that he was alive.
"According to Liu's relative, the hospital is still trying its best to rescue him," the commission said in the second post, adding that the previous misinformation was from a good friend of Dr Liu who was not aware of the latest situation.
It has not posted any message since state television announced Dr Liu's death on Tuesday morning.
After initial reports of his death were denied, the hospital told AFP on Tuesday morning that doctors were giving him life-saving treatment.
People took to social media to mourn Dr Liu on Tuesday, with many users on the Twitter-like Weibo platform drawing critical comparisons between Dr Liu’s death and Dr Li’s.
In both cases their deaths were initially reported in state media posts – later deleted – and their deaths denied, before being finally confirmed again.
“Has everyone forgotten what happened to Li Wenliang? They forcefully attempted resuscitation after he died,” one Weibo commenter wrote.
Another commenter said, Dr Liu “already died last night, (but) some people are addicted to torturing corpses”.
A hashtag about Dr Liu’s death had 29 million views by Tuesday afternoon.
Beijing was accused of covering up the full extent of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2003. In the current coronavirus outbreak, Beijing has called for transparency.
The Covid-19 virus, which is believed to have originated in Wuhan late last year, has infected more than 72,000 people and killed nearly 1,900.
China said last week that six medical workers had died from the virus, while 1,716 have been infected.
Doctors in Wuhan face shortages of masks and protective bodysuits, with some even wearing makeshift hazmat suits and continuing to work despite showing respiratory symptoms, health workers have told AFP.
Hubei province and its capital Wuhan have been the hardest hit by the virus, accounting for nearly 1,800 of the deaths from the virus so far.