In December, Dr. Li Wenliang was threatened by the government after he publicly voiced concerns about the new coronavirus before it was identified. He died Thursday of the illness, according to China's state-run media

Wenliang, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist, warned fellow clinicians in a group chat in December about a SARS-like illness popping up in one of the main hospitals in the city of Wuhan, BBC News reports. He was then told by government officials to stop "making false comments."

BBC News said officials visited Wenliang and accused him of having "severely disturbed the social order." They presented him with an official letter, stating: "We solemnly warn you: If you keep being stubborn, with such impertinence, and continue this illegal activity, you will be brought to justice — is that understood?" He signed it.

After being diagnosed with the illness in January, he was lauded on Chinese social media as a hero for speaking out. 

Local authorities later apologized. 

Wenliang's death was confirmed Thursday by the World Health Organization during a press briefing on the virus. 

"We're very sad to hear of the loss of Dr. Li Wenliang," WHO officials said. "We're very sorry to hear of the loss of any frontline worker who's attempted to care for patients." 

"We should celebrate his life and mourn his death with his colleagues," an official said.  

Also during the press conference, officials said it was still too early to say whether the outbreak has reached its peak

The coronavirus has killed at least 565 people and infected more than 28,000. The total number of cases in the U.S. was 12 as of Thursday morning, in six different states, but the outbreak is still focused largely in central China. 

First published on February 6, 2020 / 11:57 AM

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