Published23 hours ago
They began writing to him just minutes after officials announced they were abandoning key parts of zero-Covid.
On China’s internet, thousands rushed to the social media account of China’s hero doctor to tell him the news. As if stopping by the graveside of a family elder, they poured their hearts out to him.
“On the train, I suddenly remembered you and burst into tears. Dr Li, it’s over now, it’s dawn. Thank you,” said one.
Another wrote: “I’ve come to see you and let you know – the dust has settled. We’re reopening.”
Dr Li Wenliang was the 33-year-old ophthalmologist who’d been among the first to warn people about a new novel coronavirus in Wuhan – the central Chinese city where the first case was detected at the end of 2019.
He was punished by Chinese authorities for spreading “false statements” and later died from Covid as he battled to save patients. His death prompted public grief and anger.
What followed was zero-Covid – Xi Jinping’s campaign to completely eradicate the virus in China. Leaders held it up as a triumph as hospitals elsewhere were overwhelmed. But over time it became a nightmare as restrictions dragged on while other countries reopened following successful vaccination drives.
So after Wednesday’s announcement that many of the most coercive parts of China’s policy were being scrapped, Dr Li’s page became a “wailing wall” for exhausted, burnt-out people to reflect.
From Guangdong in the south to Yunnan and Sichuan further west, people expressed relief and hope but also grief and loss.
“My most youthful college years all disappeared in the pandemic. During that time I went from bright to depressed to helpless,” one user wrote.
“It’s a lie to say there was no impact for three years, it’s a lie to say that it doesn’t matter and no one cares.”
China’s zero-Covid policy kept the country’s death rate low. The country has officially reported around 5,200 deaths in the pandemic while the US has recorded over one million.
But zero-Covid exacted a punishing toll in other ways. There were sudden lockdowns that saw some people struggle to get enough food. People with Covid were separated from family and forced into centralised quarantine. Restrictions banned travel and gatherings. Livelihoods suffered.
On Dr Li’s wall, many questioned what their sacrifice and hardship had been for.
“I took the subway this morning and for the first time did not have to look at the health code,” wrote one user from Sichuan.
“Some people say the epidemic has only started now after three years of hard work. So was it a waste of time? What of all those who paid a huge price, and even their lives for it?”
Another wrote that if he had defied Covid orders only last week, he would have been arrested and hauled off to jail.
“If someone had said to loosen restrictions one month earlier, they would have been punished. Dr Li is not the first, nor will he be the last,” one user wrote.
The loosening of restrictions follows the most widespread protests seen in China for decades.
Some on Wednesday referenced those actions on Dr Li’s page. “We shouted and fought, but fortunately everything will end,” one person wrote.
Others expressed trepidation for China’s elderly population, who have relatively low rates of vaccination.
“Dr Li, the real test of the three-year epidemic has begun. The epidemic is not as serious as yours, but I am exhausted,” one person wrote.
Another asked: “Dr Li, here I come to you again. Our city has been released from lockdown. Many people are shouting that the epidemic is finally over after three years.
“But is it really over?”