Coronavirus outbreak: Doctor who warned about infection dies from illness

A Chinese doctor who was among the first to alert authorities to the deadly coronavirus died from the illness on Friday after confusion about his condition. 

Local media first reported on Friday morning (NZ Time), that Dr Li Wenliang had succumbed to the virus which has spread across the globe. The World Health Organisation (WHO) soon also relayed the news, saying "we all need to celebrate work that he did on" the illness.

However, the Global Times then reported the Wuhan Central Hospital as saying Dr Wenliang was still under emergency treatment and in a critical condition. The media outlet said his heart stopped beating for a period. 

Hours later, the Wuhan Central Hospital released a statement confirming the death. The statement, cited by the BBC and CNN, says he died after attempts to resuscitate him.

Getting the world to pay attention to the condition wasn't initially easy for the doctor who worked as an ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital. The virus is understood to have originated at a seafood market in Wuhan, in the Chinese province of Hubei.

In December, Dr Wenliang sent a message to a group of medical professionals that he had noticed seven cases of a mystery illness similar to the SARS virus, which killed nearly 800 people worldwide in 2003. 

Days after sending out the warning, he was confronted by police who accused him of spreading misinformation. Dr Wenliang was one of eight people investigated in early January for so-called rumour-mongering. 

But as evidence of the virus grew, local authorities apologised to the doctor. In late January, it was announced he had contracted the illness.

The coronavirus has been declared a global health emergency and so far killed at least 563 people - up 73 in the last 24 hours. More than 28,000 people worldwide have the illness, including one New Zealander who was tested positive on the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan. There are now 20 people confirmed to have the illness on that ship.

New Zealand has imposed strict travel restrictions on those coming to Aotearoa from China. Only New Zealand citizens or permanent residents can enter the country from the Asian nation, but they will have to self-isolate for 14 days.

There have been no confirmed cases of the sickness in New Zealand, but it has been detected in countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada.

WHO was first informed of cases of the virus in Wuhan on December 31. It was identified as a coronavirus on January 7 and can spread through human-to-human transmission.

"Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death," WHO says.

"Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing."

There is currently no vaccine to the sickness.