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Floral tributes to doctor who blew whistle on China's Covid cover-up

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Dr Li of Wuhan

Dr Li of Wuhan

Dr Li of Wuhan

Flowers have been left at the back of Wuhan Central Hospital to honour a Chinese whistleblower doctor who died from Covid-19 a year ago.

One message among the flowers was simply the number of a Bible verse - Matthew 5:10.

"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," it reads.

A year ago on Sunday, Dr Li Wenliang died from the virus first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

A small stream of people marked the anniversary with visits to the hospital yesterday, some leaving flowers.

The 34-year-old ophthalmologist was one of eight whistleblowers whom local authorities punished early on for "spreading rumours" about a Sars-like virus in a social media group.

His situation, eventually made public in media reports, made him a potent symbol for the perils of going against official messaging in China.

The Chinese public embraced Dr Li, whose presence online had painted a picture of an ordinary person.

His wife was pregnant and he was soon to be a father. He sent the "rumour" because he wanted to warn others.

The public also watched as he fell ill with the disease he was warning them about. His condition eventually worsened and he died.

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Dr Li's death was initially reported by Chinese state media on the night of February 6, 2020, but the outlets quickly withdrew their reporting.

Some hours later, in the early morning of February 7, Wuhan Central Hospital announced his death.

Chinese people grieved his death, online and offline. Mourners took flowers to the hospital, while online some people were furious and demanded freedom of speech - posts that were quickly censored.

Dr Li's death seemed to raise a challenge to the central government, as public anger swelled.

Central government authorities conducted an investigation in Dr Li's death, concluding that the officer who punished the doctor should be reprimanded.

One police officer was given a demerit, while another was given an official warning, state media reported.

Wuhan for the most part has returned to normal, with shopping centres and streets crowded, and there is little visible evidence of the suffering the city went through.

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