Another doctor from Wuhan, the epicenter of the latest coronavirus pandemic, has criticised hospital authorities for suppressing early warnings of the outbreak in an interview with the Chinese magazine, Renwu.
Ai Fen, director of the emergency at Wuhan Central Hospital, said she was reprimanded after alerting her superiors and colleagues of a Sars-like virus seen in patients in December last year.
Chinese censors have been trying to erase the interview from the internet.
After the virus has claimed more than 3,000 lives inside China, including four doctors at her hospital, one of which was the whistleblower ophthalmologist Li Wenliang, Ai has joined other critics risking their jobs, as well as detention, to speak out about conditions in Wuhan.
“If I had known what was to happen, I would not have cared about the reprimand. I would have fucking talked about it to whoever, where ever I could,” she said in the interview.
Since Tuesday, Ai’s interview has been posted and quickly deleted from Chinese social media sites. Renwu has removed the article and Ai could not be reached over the phone. Internet users have moved quickly to save the article, posting screenshots of it.
New versions of the article, in attempts to evade censors, have proliferated, from one partly written in emojis to another done in morse code, as well as pinyin, the romanisation system for Mandarin.
On December 30, after seeing several patients with flu-like symptoms and resistant to usual treatment methods, Ai received the lab results of one case, which contained the word: “Sars coronavirus.” Ai, reading the report several times, says she broke out into a cold sweat.
She circled the words Sars, took a photo and sent it to a former medical school classmate, now a doctor at another hospital in Wuhan. By that evening, the photo had spread throughout medical circles in Wuhan, where it was also shared by Li Wenliang, becoming the first piece of evidence of the outbreak.
That night Ai said she received a message from her hospital saying information about this mysterious disease should not be arbitrarily released in order to avoid causing panic. Two days later, she told the magazine, she was summoned by the head of the hospital’s disciplinary inspection committee and reprimanded for “spreading rumours” and “harming stability”.
The staffs were forbidden from passing messages or images related to the virus, she said. All Ai could do was ask her staff to wear protective clothing and masks – even as hospital authorities told them not to. She told her department to wear protective jackets under their doctor coats.
Meanwhile, Chinese officials were still insisting there was no reason to believe the virus was being passed between people. “I knew there must be human to human transmission,” Ai said.
On January 21, the day after Chinese officials finally confirmed there was human to human transmission of the virus, the number of sick residents coming to the emergency room had already reached 1,523 in a day – three times the normal volume.
Over the last two months, Ai said she has also seen many of her colleagues fall sick and four died from the virus. One of those was Li Wenliang, whose death prompted an unprecedented wave of national anger and mourning.
Early on during the outbreak, public security officials in Wuhan said eight people had been punished for “spreading rumours”. It is not clear if Li was one of those and Ai said her reprimand came from her hospital.
Still, several friends have asked Ai if she was one of those whistleblowers.
“I am not a whistleblower,” Ai told Renwu. “I am the one who provided the whistle.” (Source: The Guardian)