Ai Fen, director of the emergency at Wuhan Central hospital, has disappeared after criticizing Chinese authorities over their handling of the Wuhan Coronavirus pandemic. She was the first person to raise the alarm over the virus. Her whereabouts remain unknown. She had alerted her superiors and colleagues of a SARS-like virus seen in patients in December, however, she was reprimanded. Eventually, after seeing so many people die, she criticized the authorities for suppressing early warnings of the outbreak in an interview. The Chinese government has subsequently been trying hard to get the interview off the internet.
It was only two weeks ago that Ai Fen had gone public with her story and spoken to a Chinese magazine, Renwu.
“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, as reported by The Guardian. On the 30th of December, Ai had received the lab test results of a patient suffering from flu-like symptoms and resistant to the usual treatment methods. It said ‘SARS Coronavirus’. She took a picture of the results and sent it to a former medical school classmate. By evening, the photo had spread across medical circles in Wuhan.
The same night, Ai Fen received a message from the authorities at her hospital saying that information about this new disease should not be released arbitrarily in order to avoid causing panic. Two days later, after being summoned by the head of the hospital’s disciplinary inspection committee, she was reprimanded for “spreading rumours” and “harming stability”. Subsequently, the staff was forbidden from passing messages or images related to the virus.
“We watched more and more patients come in as the radius of the spread of infection became larger,” Ai Fen said as the doctors began seeing patients with no connection to the epicentre of the pandemic in Wuhan, its wet market. “I knew there must be human to human transmission,” she said. Her observation was eventually confirmed by the Chinese authorities on the 21st of January when cases had already increased exponentially.
After this interview went public two weeks ago, President Xi ordered her interview erased from the internet. Dr Ai Fen herself has disappeared now, whereabouts unknown.
Ai Fen, however, denied that she is a whistleblower. “I am the one who provided the whistle,” she insisted. Nevertheless she has disappeared now, as so many dissidents in China often do, and her whereabouts are unknown. Dr Li Wenliang, the doctor who had tried to warn others about a SARS-like epidemic in Wuhan, had died on February 7, after days of treating coronavirus infected patients at a hospital in Wuhan. He was also one of the doctors who were warned by Wuhan authorities not to ‘spread rumours’. The Chinese authorities issued an apology to the family of the deceased doctor for the manner in which he was treated when he was alive.