"People should continue to demand transparency and accountability from their governments."
In December 2019, a doctor from Wuhan in Hubei province in China used his WeChat social media account to warn the people about a SARS-like virus spreading fast in his city. As a result, Li Wenliang was reprimanded by police for spreading rumors; he was forced to acknowledge that he was wrong.
Just a few days later, Li himself contracted the virus from a patient. He died exactly a year ago last Saturday. He was only 34 years old, with a wife, a 4-year old child and an unborn baby.
Li gave interviews to the press during his confinement. He said that he and his colleagues were discussing the mysterious illness, initially thinking it was SARS making a comeback. They agreed that they needed to be ready for it mentally, and that they should take protective measures against it.
The doctor himself did not expect that the virus would claim his life. He told The New York Times that he expected to recover in 15 days, and that he would join medical workers in fighting the pandemic. “That’s where my responsibilities lie,” he said. It’s a tragedy that he never recovered to continue the fight.
In speaking out, however, Li had already carried out another responsibility —to raise alarm and inform people of the impending danger of what, one year later, has sickened nearly 106 million and killed more than 2.3 million across the globe.
Dr. Li’s silencing, while not unexpected from a country like China, is a common response from governments and officials who value image over truth. To maintain people’s perception and high regard for them, they withhold the true state of affairs and paint a rosier version of reality.
It’s a tendency that is not altogether foreign to us. Had our own national leaders believed the science and made the safety of our people a paramount consideration, refused entitlements and not made excuses for the incompetence of some, then perhaps we would have also arrested the spread of the virus instead of resorting to a long and economically crippling lockdown.
Our duty as citizens is to speak up and call out the inadequacies of the people who are leading us. If we see something that should be cause for alarm, we should use any means available to us so long as our message is clear and fair and based on fact. We may be intimidated by those seeking to protect their image and their interests, but they should not deter us.
One year after Dr. Li’s message, repression and eventual death, the whole world, not just China, is still grappling with the virus. While a lasting solution seems within reach with the rollout of vaccines, people should continue to demand transparency and accountability from their governments and resist attempts to repress the truth for the sake of maintaining appearances.