Two Nations Mark Anniversary of Two Notable Covid-19 Deaths

Once. Two deaths. A year later, despite the subsequent hundreds of thousands of deaths, the loss of two people – one in China and one in the United States – is still being felt in two countries where the pandemic has taken drastically different paths.

Saturday marks the anniversary of Dr. Li Wenliang in Wuhan, China, for the illness he raised the alarm about before being silenced by the authorities there.

At the end of December 2019, Dr. Li his medical school classmates in an online chat room in front of a lab report on a spreading virus similar to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a coronavirus that had spread from China 17 years earlier. Shortly thereafter, in the middle of the night, health officials and later the police called him and forced him to sign a statement denying his “illegal behavior”. Without Dr. Calling Li, Chinese state television news reported that eight people in Wuhan had been fined for spreading “rumors” about the virus.

Dr. Li was 34 and was expecting a second child with his wife. His silence and death sparked rare waves of anger and turmoil online in China, flooding Sina Weibo, a Chinese microblogging platform similar to Twitter, with an illustration of him clogged with a barbed wire mask.

Despite ignoring its initial warning, China reversed course, cordoned off Wuhan and offered the world a warning of the dangers of the virus. A year later, far from the long months of tough lockdown, the city is showing what to expect when the virus is contained: exposed faces, happy gatherings, and daily commutes.

The anniversary of Dr. Li’s death on February 7th in China (and February 6th in the United States) sparked a huge amount of online news in China, including many from people who warned that the lessons of his persecution should not be forgotten . Many left comments, some with emoticons of burning candles, on Dr. Li’s personal page about Weibo.


Apr 6, 2021 at 6:56 ET

“So many people have visited here to thank you,” said a message. “We mustn’t forget,” said another, a feeling that has been borne out by many other comments.

On Sunday in China, comments with a hashtag commemorating Dr. Li was created, generated over 410 million views on Weibo, and even with censorship, many lengthy posts targeted the official censorship and secrecy that led to his punishment.

A grieving Dr. Li quoted his own words in an interview days before his death: “I think a healthy society shouldn’t have just one voice.”

Saturday is also exactly one year since the first known coronavirus-related death in the United States, where the Trump administration never had a unified pandemic strategy and the virus was never controlled.

On February 6, 2020, weeks before there was any sign of the coronavirus spreading to U.S. communities, Patricia Dowd, an otherwise healthy 57-year-old auditor at a Silicon Valley semiconductor maker, developed flulike symptoms and died abruptly in her kitchen in San Jose, California. The surprising discovery months later that her death was caused by Covid-19 rewritten the timeline for the early spread of the virus in the United States, suggesting that optimistic assumptions drove federal policies in the first few weeks of the outbreak , were out of place.

“RIP Patricia,” wrote Pam Foley, a member of the San Jose city council that represents Ms. Dowd’s district, on Twitter on Saturday. “You are loved and deeply missed.”

A year and more than 460,000 deaths later, around 1.3 million people in the US are receiving one dose of vaccine every day, and the virus will eventually spread slow, but the risk of more contagious variants looms. A return to normal remains a striving, but only that, an idea that is far from reality.

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