Ai Fen: Authorities gagged me over coronavirus

The Wuhan doctor first mentioned the coronavirus in a WeChat post on December 30th. First suspected cases since mid-December. Her superiors ordered her to keep quiet so as not to create panic. The hospital changed the diagnoses of the first patients from "viral pneumonia" to "generic infection". Ai's information shared by Li Wenliang. The authorities did not act in a timely manner.

Rome (AsiaNews) - Ai Fen, head of the emergency department of Wuhan's central hospital, said in an interview with People magazine that the authorities prevented her from raising the alarm at the beginning of the epidemic crisis. The article, published on March 10, the day of President Xi Jinping's visit to Wuhan, was immediately censored, arousing widespread indignation.

Ai reveals that on December 30 she posted on WeChat, a popular Chinese messaging site, the image of a diagnostic folder of a patient suffering from a lung infection similar to Sars. However, the first suspected cases date back to December 16, coming from another hospital. Patients had high fever and did not respond to medication.

Ai immediately informed her superiors of what was happening. They replied that the city health commission had ordered them to say nothing about the virus so as not to panic the population. The hospital management itself then reminded staff that publishing information about the disease was prohibited.

On January 1, a hospital supervisor gave her a "dressing down" for creating havoc with her revelations, accusing her of being an informer. A week later, a nurse contracted Covid-19. However, the hospital management decided to change the description of the disease from "viral pneumonia" to "generic infection".

The doctor also expressed doubts about where the disease started to spread from. "Patients continued to increase after the closure of the Huanan fish market on January 1, initially indicated by the authorities as the likely epicenter of the infection." It was now clear that the transmission took place from man to man, but the authorities did not give this information until January 18.

Ai had not received any official authorization to disseminate this news. The doctor is convinced that she is not at fault and that she has simply done her job, sharing sensitive information with colleagues from the hospital. Among them was Li Wenliang, the doctor arrested by the police for launching the alert. Li died of the infection on February 7, followed by three other doctors.

According to her, city officials could have intervened in a more timely manner and saved many human lives, including those of her colleagues: “If these doctors had been made aware of the real situation immediately, they would not have died now. My great regret is that I was unable to notify more people."