This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Wuhan doctor Hu Weifeng, a colleague of late whistleblowing doctor Li Wenliang, died of coronavirus on Tuesday, state media reported.
Hu, a urologist who had worked alongside Li at Wuhan Central Hospital, died after a four-month-long battle with COVID-19 and related complications, according to state broadcaster CCTV.
He is the sixth doctor to die of the virus at that hospital since the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic in Wuhan late last year.
Photos of Hu published by the media showed him with darkened skin owing to liver damage caused by the virus.
Hu was first admitted to hospital on Jan. 17, ahead of the Lunar New Year celebrations, and amid the first peak of the Wuhan epidemic.
But his colleagues were reluctant to discuss his death, indicating that it remains a highly politically sensitive topic for the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Several colleagues declined requests for comment when contacted by RFA on Tuesday.
Earlier this year, the hospital was embroiled in controversy for banning the wearing of face-masks among medical staff not directly involved with the emergency room, intensive care units, or infectious diseases specialty.
Sources said the insistence on using critically ill front-line medical staff as test patients for traditional Chinese medicine treatments for coronavirus has also generated widespread concern.
A health industry insider surnamed Feng said the authorities sometimes avoid listing deaths as being caused by the coronavirus, and put constant political pressure on hospitals not to report fresh coronavirus cases.
She said management at hospitals that report fresh cases are threatened with disciplinary investigations.
Coverups caused deaths
A Wuhan-based academic surnamed Zhou said some doctors had died because of official attempts to cover up the emergence of new cases in Wuhan, which has been officially declared free of new cases.
Zhou said the Wuhan Central Hospital Communist Party secretary Cai Li isn’t a medical professional herself.
“She is a bureaucrat, and all the decisions she has made during this epidemic have been based on orders from higher up,” Zhou said. “This means that if her superiors are under pressure, they can use her as a scapegoat, but if they’re doing OK they won’t give her any trouble.”
Ai Fen, director of the Wuhan Central Hospital ER, was given a stern reprimand after sending information about the early stages of the outbreak to a group of doctors, after she took a photo of a patient’s test results and circled the words “SARS coronavirus” in red.
She alerted colleagues to several cases of the virus, and eight of them were then summoned by police and reprimanded for sharing the information. Among them was opthalmologist Li Wenliang who later died of COVID-19.
Critics, both at home and internationally, have accused the Hubei provincial authorities and the Wuhan municipal government of covering up the fact that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 could easily be transmitted between human beings.
A Jan. 11 notice issued by the Hubei health commission denied that person-to-person transmission existed, but a March 19 State Supervisory Commission report into the reprimanding of Li Wenliang said human-to-human transmission was known about as early as December.
The Wuhan People’s Congress also knew that the virus was transmissible between people, but gave the go-ahead for the 10,000 Families Banquet at Baibuting, which gave rise to a large cluster of infections, according to a lawsuit filed against the Hubei provincial authorities.
China could face trillions of dollars in international lawsuits for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which first emerged in Wuhan as early as November, according to the London-based Henry Jackson Society.
Nations who are part of the G7 and other governments could sue the ruling Chinese Communist Party for damages to their economies and national infrastructure after the country breached the International Health Regulations, a legally binding international treaty to which China is a signatory, the think-tank said in a report published in April.
Beijing has been accused of providing the World Health Organization (WHO) with “erroneous information” about the number of infections in early January, while failing to ban the trade in wild animals for human consumption.
Chinese health authorities also allowed five million people to leave Wuhan by announcing a lockdown but not immediately implementing it, while also being aware that the coronavirus was spreading between people, critics say.
A University of Southampton study found that the spread of COVID-19 could have been reduced by around 95 percent if the authorities had acted three weeks earlier.
In Washington, a group of Senators and Representatives said they plan to introduce the “Li Wenliang Global Public Health Accountability Act,” which would authorize the president to sanction foreign officials who suppress or distort information about international public health crises, including the Wuhan coronavirus.