Hospital director at China virus epicentre dies

BEIJING (AFP) – A hospital director at the epicentre of China’s virus epidemic died yesterday, state media said, the latest medical worker to fall victim to the new coronavirus spreading across the country.

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.

Director of Wuchang Hospital in Wuhan Liu Zhiming died yesterday morning after “all-out rescue efforts failed,” state broadcaster CCTV reported.

China said last week that six medical workers had died from the virus, while 1,716 have been infected.

Liu’s death was initially reported by Chinese media and bloggers shortly after midnight yesterday – but the stories were later deleted and replaced with reports that doctors were still trying to save him.

Patients infected with the coronavirus rest at a temporary hospital converted from Wuhan Sports Center in central China’s Hubei Province. PHOTO: AP

After initial reports of his death were denied, the hospital told AFP yesterday morning that doctors were giving him life-saving treatment.

Liu’s death has echoes of that of Wuhan ophthalmologist Li Wenliang, who had been punished by authorities for sounding the alarm about the virus in late December.

Li’s death prompted a national outpouring of grief as well as anger against the authorities, who were accused of mishandling the crisis.

People took to social media to mourn Liu yesterday, with many users on the Twitter-like Weibo platform drawing critical comparisons between Liu’s death and 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.

A hashtag about Liu’s death had 29 million views by yesterday afternoon.

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.