Chinese Media Declares Hospital Director Dead From COVID-19, Then Alive, Then Dead Again

This photo taken on February 16, 2020 shows medical staff members working at the isolation ward of the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province. (Photo: Getty Images)

Liu Zhiming, the 51-year-old director of Wuchang Hospital in Wuhan, China, died at 10:54 AM local time Tuesday morning after being infected with coronavirus, according to the Wuhan Health Commission. Multiple Chinese state media outlets like the People’s Daily and Global Times reported Liu’s death yesterday but created confusion after deleting those reports Monday night. One health official in Wuhan insisted on social media that Liu was actually still alive.

At least 1,716 health care workers have been infected with the coronavirus, which causes an illness called COVID-19. The virus has killed 1,873 people, and infected at least 73,325 worldwide, with about 1,900 new cases announced today. At least 7 health professionals have now died in China, including Liu, who is the first hospital director to succumb to the illness.

Chinese state media reported that Liu had died on Monday, before a Wuhan health official took to the Chinese social media site Weibo late Monday to say the hospital director was “still being resuscitated.” News outlets in China quickly deleted their stories and tweets, suggesting he may still be alive. But state-run outlet CCTV confirmed that Liu died Tuesday morning after an announcement from the Wuhan Health Commission.

Liu’s medical facility is one of seven hospitals in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, that have been designated to treat patients with COVID-19. Wuhan, which is in Hubei province, is still where the vast majority of confirmed cases of coronavirus are being treated, and a new analysis suggests the virus is roughly 10 times more deadly than seasonal flu.

The confusion surrounding Liu’s death is similar to early reports from China about Li Wenliang, a 34-year-old doctor and whistleblower in Wuhan who died on February 7. Li’s death was reported on Chinese social media and led to both mourning and public outrage over his treatment by Chinese authorities. Li had been accused of spreading unfounded rumours and panic when the coronavirus first emerged in December 2019 but has become a national hero in China for his bravery. Shortly after news of Li’s death, other reports from Chinese state media emerged that he was still alive. Ultimately, Li was declared dead again from coronavirus-related pneumonia, according to state media.

Roughly 150 million people are currently on strict lockdown in China in an effort by health authorities to control the spread of the virus, and an estimated 760 million are under some form of rules that restrict their movement, according to the New York Times. Outside of China, there’s cautious optimism that the virus can be contained. But there are also plenty of signs that the coronavirus has the potential to spread far and wide.

Japan’s Health Ministry today reported 88 more cases of COVID-19 on the the Diamond Princess cruise ship, currently docked in Yokohama, Japan, bringing the total of infected from the ship to 542. Of the 88 new cases, 65 had no symptoms, a worrying sign for those who wish to stop the disease from becoming a global pandemic.

Elsewhere in Asia, the Westerdam cruise ship was denied entry to five countries last week after it was determined that a passenger who had gotten off in Hong Kong had tested positive for COVID-19. The ship was finally allowed to dock in Cambodia where the Prime Minister, former Khmer Rouge soldier Hun Sen, greeted people as they disembarked. But now an American who was on the ship has tested positive for the virus in Malaysia.

All 1,455 passengers from the Westerdam are now heading home to 41 different countries, including the United States. Holland America Line, owned by Carnival Cruise Corp, provided this breakdown of the nationalities to Gizmodo via email:

  • US, 650

  • Canadian, 271

  • UK, 127

  • Netherlands, 91

  • Australian, 79

  • Germany, 57

  • Hong Kong, 29

  • Other, 151

The cruise line declined to break out the nationalities of the 151 other passengers. But if the Diamond Princess is any guide, it’s entirely possible that some of the 1,455 passengers from the Westerdam have contracted the coronavirus but don’t even know it. Only time will tell.

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