In the last five weeks, a new coronavirus has killed more than 565 people and sickened 28,000. One of those patients is Li Wenliang, a 34-year-old doctor who was one of the first people to sound the alarm about the new outbreak.
Li sent a message to his medical-school alumni group on December 30, warning that seven patients had been quarantined at Wuhan Central Hospital after coming down with a respiratory illness that seemed like the SARS coronavirus. But Wuhan police reprimanded and silenced Li, requiring him to sign a letter acknowledging that he was “making false comments.”
The doctor, who has a child and pregnant wife, checked himself into the Wuhan Central Hospital on January 12 after contracting a respiratory illness, and announced on his Weibo account February 1 that he’d been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus.
Wuhan Central Hospital — where Li is currently in intensive care — said in a Weibo post at 12:45 am local time on Friday that the doctor is in critical condition.
“During the fight against the novel coronavirus outbreak, Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at our hospital, was infected. He is currently in critical condition, we are trying our best to save him,” the post reads.
A screenshot of a post from the official Weibo account of the Central Wuhan Hospital.
According to local news outlet China News Weekly, Li’s heart stopped around 9:30 p.m. local time, but he was rescued using an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine.
Li is not dead, despite some earlier reports
Earlier this week, Li told The New York Times via text message that Chinese officials could have done better at sharing information about the coronavirus at the outbreak’s onset.
“If the officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier,” he said, “I think it would have been a lot better. There should be more openness and transparency.”
On Thursday, some reports suggested Li had passed away; Mike Ryan, head of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Program, fielded questions about the doctor during a World Health Organization press briefing.
Reacting to the reports, Ryan said the WHO was “very sad” to hear of Li’s death.
“We should celebrate his life and mourn his death with his colleagues,” he added. The WHO later tweeted out condolences, but Christian Lindmeier, a spokesperson for the organization, told Business Insider that the WHO was just commenting on “news we received from official media.”
“It’s a bad reporting error, but it’s fantastic if he’s alive,” Lindmeier added. 
A warning message gone viral 
The message Li sent to his medical-school contacts on December 30 warned that the seven quarantined Wuhan patients had all worked at or visited the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market.
The same day, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission published a notice that some patients had contracted an unknown pneumonia, possibly at the seafood market. But the commission warned that “organizations or individuals are not allowed to release treatment information to the public without authorization.”
A woman walks in front of the closed Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, where health officials think the coronavirus outbreak might have started, in the city of Wuhan, Hubei province, China, on January 12, 2020.
NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images
Screenshots of Li’s message had already gone viral, though.
“When I saw them circulating online, I realized that it was out of my control and I would probably be punished,” Li told CNN.
Four days later, Li was summoned to a police station. Authorities reportedly told him that his WeChat warning was illegal and had “severely disturbed the social order.” 
The letter he was told to sign read: “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?”
Beneath that, Li wrote: “Yes, I do.”
A screenshot of a photo that Li shared on his Weibo account on January 31 shows the letter he signed on January 3.
Li was not detained, and he returned to work at the hospital.
After contracting the coronavirus and checking himself into the hospital for treatment, Li continued to post to his Weibo account and speak out against misinformation. 
“I was wondering why (the government’s) official notices were still saying there was no human-to-human transmission, and there were no healthcare workers infected,” Li wrote on January 31 from his hospital bed.
China’s Supreme People’s Court issued a commentary on January 28 that condemned Wuhan authorities’ investigations into people like Li who shared early information about the virus.
“It might have been a fortunate thing for containing the new coronavirus, if the public had listened to this ‘rumor’ at the time, and adopted measures such as wearing masks, strict disinfection and avoiding going to the wildlife market,” the commentary said.