Coronavirus: Doctor who sent warning about disease reprimanded by Chinese authorities

A doctor who sent a warning message about the coronavirus outbreak in December was reprimanded by Chinese authorities for alerting the public about the disease.

Dr Li Wenliang wrote in an online group chat to his medical school classmates that patients were "quarantined in the emergency department" due to a mystery illness.

"So frightening. Is SARS coming again?" one person replied.

On December 31, Dr Li's message was shared outside of the group - the same time authorities were focussed on controlling the narrative, the New York Times reported.

Local police then announced they were investigating eight people for spreading rumours about the outbreak.

Health authorities in Wuhan demanded to know why Dr Li had shared the information. Three days later, he was forced to sign a statement that said his behaviour was "illegal".

A senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations who studies China said it "was an issue of inaction" from authorities that lead to the coronavirus epidemic.

"There was no action in Wuhan from the local health department to alert people to the threat," Yanzhong Huang told the New York Times.

The same day Dr Li's message was leaked to the public, Wuhan's health commission announced that 27 people were suffering from pneumonia of an unknown cause. But its statement said there was no need to be alarmed.

"The disease is preventable and controllable...people can wear masks when going out," the statement said.

"Symptomatic treatment is the main clinical practice, and bed rest is required."

The coronavirus is now a global health emergency. At least 425 people have died in China from the disease, and over 20,000 people are confirmed to have the infection.

Many countries have placed travel restrictions on people leaving or transiting through China, including New Zealand. The travel ban was imposed on February 2 and will last for up to 14 days.