Following an online uproar over the government’s treatment of Dr Li Wenliang, the Communist Party struck a conciliatory note, saying it is sending a team to “fully investigate relevant issues raised by the public.”
Li, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist, contracted the virus while treating patients, and his death was confirmed early Friday. Li, one of eight medical professionals in Wuhan who tried to warn colleagues and others when the government did not, had said that police forced him to sign a statement admitting he spread falsehoods.
Even the staunchly pro-government Global Times newspaper said the treatment of Li and other whistleblowers was “evidence of local authorities’ incompetence to tackle a contagious and deadly virus.”
The episode has raised longstanding complaints that party officials lie about or cover up disease outbreaks, chemical spills, dangerous consumer products or financial frauds. Chinese citizens can be jailed on charges of rumour-mongering or making trouble.
Most of the deaths from the virus have been of older people with existing health problems, but disease specialists said Li’s work – eye doctors sit very close to their patients during examinations – may have subjected him to an extra large dose of the virus that made his illness more severe.
In Japan, three more cases were diagnosed Saturday among 3700 passengers and crew on the quarantined Diamond Princess. Those aboard remain under 14-day quarantine.
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.
The ship, with more than 2000 people, was near Okinawa and was seeking another port, said Overseas Travel Agency official Mie Matsubara.
“We are getting desperate,” she said. “We hope we can go somewhere so that passengers can land.”
The US announced later Friday that it is prepared to spend up to $US100 million ($149 million) to help China and other countries fight the outbreak. The government also said it helped with the effort to deliver nearly 18 tons of medical supplies donated to the Chinese by the American people, including masks, gowns, gauze and respirators.
All but one the deaths in the outbreak have been in China. China’s National Health Commission said about 6101 of those being treated, or nearly 17 per cent, are in serious condition. The vast majority of the infected are in China; roughly 290 others are in about two dozen other countries, including Japan, Thailand, Singapore and South Korea.