The Chinese Communist Party issued a rare “solemn apology” to Dr. Li Wenliang’s family more than a month after his death from the virus and said the police force in Wuhan had revoked its admonishment that had included a threat of arrest.
The government added that two police officers had been issued “disciplinary punishments” for the original handling of the matter.
Li was a 34-year-old ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital who was reprimanded by the Chinese government after he told medical school graduates in a private online chat about the novel virus’s similarities to SARS.
He was then reportedly summoned to the Public Security Bureau where he was forced to sign a letter stating that he made false comments about the virus.
Li died at Wuhan Central Hospital – where he treated patients and likely contracted the virus — in February.
A week after his death, Li’s mother Lu Shuyun, demanded an explanation from the police about his treatment. “We won’t give up if they don’t give us an explanation,” she said in an online video at the time.
His death has renewed anger about the Communist Party’s alleged lies and suppression of information in the country, including about disease outbreaks, industrial accidents, natural disasters and financial frauds, while punishing whistleblowers and independent journalists.
Coronavirus soon spread through Wuhan, leading to overwhelmed hospitals and widespread shutdowns in the area in January until it spread throughout the country and eventually across the globe, with nearly 250,000 cases and more than 10,000 deaths by Friday.
Wuhan saw its second day of no new cases on Friday.
China has loosened some travel restrictions in Hubei, the province surrounding Wuhan, although its provincial border remains closed and Wuhan itself remains under lockdown. Officials say they will only lift the quarantine after Wuhan goes 14 consecutive days with no new cases.
The party often responds to crises by allowing the public to vent temporarily, then uses its control of media and the internet to stifle criticism. Critics who persist can be jailed on vague charges of spreading rumors or making trouble.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.