The "Whistleblowing" Chinese Doctors

Rico

Senior Member
It's been several years since I've visited metabunk. Back then, I used to comment a lot on the Chemtrail conspiracy theory. Since then, I moved my aviation career over to Asia, and began experiencing the eastern perspective on a lot of things--on culture, and on the media. I've also become a communist (just kidding). However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, there seems to be a lot of media narratives that exist online, some of which are blatantly conspiracy theories, and others not so much. One of the things that have come out of these narratives has resulted in a lot more critique of China, and also a lot of racism against Asians across the globe.

Now, why am I bringing this up? Because there is currently a narrative that is pretty mainstream, and it seems to be the crux at which this critique of China is born. People online often cite this as the reason why China should be blamed for the COVID-19 pandemic. Before I get started, I must confess that I don't know the full story of anything. What I wanted to do was to post this, to hear what rational debunkers have to think with my own take on this. I am welcome to anyone pointing out problems with the information I am about to provide, and to see if there are any further insights.

Some doctors in China, notably by the names of Dr. Li Wenliang, and Dr. Ai Fen, are widely hailed by the media as the whistleblowers of COVID-19. On wikipedia, Dr. Li Wenliang is known for "Discovering COVID-19", and Dr. Ai Fen was given the nickname "The Whistlegiver," for issuing a medical report that Dr. Li acted upon. Had China not suppressed their voices, and reprimanded them, then perhaps the outcome of the pandemic would have been different. But is this really the case?

Working backwards from the timeline, we know that by December 31st, the WHO had already been notified of a possible new coronavirus associated with the seafood market in Wuhan at the China County Office. By January 1st, the market was shutdown (source: https://www.who.int/csr/don/12-january-2020-novel-coronavirus-china/en/).

Dr. Li Wenliang (an Ophthalmologist), on December 30, 2019, saw a patient's report from Dr. Ai Fen, director of the emergency department at Wuhan Central hospital, after she had seen some patients with flu-like symptoms whom did not respond to conventional treatment. Dr. Li, subsequently wrote in a private chat group to a number of classmates, about this report (telling them that there are confirmed reports, and for friends and family to take caution. He did not intend the message to spread. However, this message began spreading and practically became viral. On January 1st, Wuhan police summoned eight "rumormongers", and by January 3rd, Dr Li was issued a warning letter as his reprimand. (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Li_Wenliang#Whistleblower_in_2019–20_coronavirus_pandemic). Dr. Li subsequently died of the virus on January 7th, and became a whistleblower ever since.

Now, the timeline here is very interesting, considering that literally a day after Dr. Li received the report from Dr. Ai, the WHO was already notified. Surely, there must have been something else going on in the background. Was Dr. Li the first person to have let information about the virus release, or was there someone else? Meet Dr. Zhang Jixian, a figure that I find is almost never talked about in the media outside of China. Officially, in China, she was the first doctor to sound the alarm. On December 26, she encountered an elderly woman who had symptoms. On December 27th, which is the day she sounded the alarm, the woman's husband and her son were also tested (source: Source: https://youtu.be/IQH4zHX0_aA
).

Dr. Zhang Jixian appears to be important here, because if she was the first person to report report the virus, which subsequently led to the WHO being notified, then there are two important implications: 1) The western mainstream media is wrong that Dr. Li discovered the virus, and the timeline of China's response would not have have changed anyways; 2) It might provide insight as to why Dr. Li, and a number of "rumormongers" were issued reprimands. Additionally, it sheds further insight to the western narrative that this was any large scale coverup.

Regarding point 1, I don't know how much more I can say about this. The Chinese government likely made some mistakes, but nonetheless, appeared to have reported the virus to the right authority (WHO) regardless of Dr. Li's involvement. The response appears to be quick, in only 4 days.

Regarding point 2, because there is likely an investigation going on behind the scenes, it seems plausible that the local government (or indeed higher) would not like information to be leaked. Doing so could cause potential panic, which could lead to potential spread. I do not have a source for this, but this logic sounds reasonable to me.

As a side note, we know that there were patients sick with the coronavirus by December 1, 2019, or as early as November 17, 2019. By December 12, Chinese state broadcaster noted that a "new viral outbreak was first detected in the city of Wuhan". It wasn't until December 18, that Dr. Ai Fen herself, first came into contact with a patient showing "multiple patchy blurry shadows scattered in the lungs" (likely suffering from ARDS due to the infection) on December 18, 2019). It was around this time that viral genome sequencing began. From all this information, it appears that the Chinese did not know what they were dealing with until December 12 at the earliest, with an investigation beginning about a week soon after. (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_2019–20_coronavirus_pandemic_from_November_2019_to_January_2020).

So again, why is this all important? Because everywhere on the news, I'm seeing the media saying that the Chinese attempted to cover this up and that this coverup would have changed the course of this pandemic. "China lied and people died" is what is often spread on social media. But did they lie, did they take unreasonable action, or were their actions actually kind of logical? While the response to this virus in January could be up to debate, what I can gather is that their response during the month of December does not appear unreasonable. Dr. Li, and indeed Dr. Ai Fen would not have changed the timeline of events. Using Dr. Li as a "whistleblower" also does not seem to carry much merit, since he only reported Ai Fen's information in a private group, and it was only the information that leaked out that became so prominent in western mainstream media.

Now, to the debunkers of this forum: Is anything of what I said here bunk or is there indeed some issues with the current media narrative calling this a Chinese coverup? Even rationalwiki seems to echo this coverup narrative. I am welcome to any input and thoughts. I've never been so critical of the media in the past as I have now, so I need to check and see if I am going crazy here. Thanks in advance.


(On a completely other note, the media also reports that Dr. Ai Fen went missing on April 1, 2020, and the media went crazy saying that she got "disappeared". Some Chinese people on reddit discovered that she was still posting on social media (https://i.redd.it/kn6s4vrs9aq41.png), and she spoke at a conference on April 2 (https://i.redd.it/kn6s4vrs9aq41.png)
 
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Rory

Senior Member
Perhaps the "claim" that Ai Fen has disappeared/not disappeared is worthy of investigation in its own thread, given how widely it's been reported? Maybe a place to start would be her Sina Weibo account, which is where the social media comments were posted:

https://weibo.com/u/2662574464
 
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Mendel

Active Member
Before I get I to this, let me note that even after the disease had been studied, medical professionals and other public figures in the Western world said this was just "like a flu". The low mortality compared to e.g. SARS and the high humber of mild cases made this epidemic hard to identify at first.
As a side note, we know that there were patients sick with the coronavirus by December 1, 2019, or as early as November 17, 2019. By December 12, Chinese state broadcaster noted that a "new viral outbreak was first detected in the city of Wuhan". It wasn't until December 18, that Dr. Ai Fen herself, first came into contact with a patient showing "multiple patchy blurry shadows scattered in the lungs" (likely suffering from ARDS due to the infection) on December 18, 2019). It was around this time that viral genome sequencing began. From all this information, it appears that the Chinese did not know what they were dealing with until December 12 at the earliest, with an investigation beginning about a week soon after. (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_2019–20_coronavirus_pandemic_from_November_2019_to_January_2020).
I have some issues with your summary.
"The Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported in a broadcast on 9 January 2020 that the "new viral outbreak was first detected in the city of Wuhan, China," on 12 December 2019.[16]" means the broadcast was in January, and it may refer to a retrospective investigation.

You have no source for when the genome sequencing began. The timeline says that genome sequencing mistakenly identified the virus as SARS on Dec 30th.

The key occurrence in the timeline is December 29th, when the hospital doctors had a conference, looked at the cases they had seen, and decided to notify the provincial CDC. This is when the treating physicians had the first strong indication of what was to come, the notified the epidemiologists, who sent a team and began researching the infection. They would have confirmed the physicians' findings, and then started the genetic research and also notified WHO.

December 29 is when "official channels" got involved, and the Chinese CDC moved with transparency and speed thereafter. Before Dec 29, there could not be a coverup, because nobody knew they were looking at a potential epidemic; and after December 30, the world knew.

Activities included researching the disease, identifying the virus that caused it by Jan 5th, and sharing its genome with the world. Once the could identify the virus, they could track it back in time by examining samples from other patients who had milder cases of it, and find patients who had been unremarkable at the time they were sick. I can't really think of anything that the Chinese CDC should have done differently after they were notified on December 29.

A big point of contention is that the Chinese thought for 3 weeks that they were looking at a zoonotic disease, like e.g. the bird flu, that can on occasion transfer from animals to humans, but does not spread from human to human. Remember the hospital was looking at a group of people who got sick at about the same time and all worked in the vicinity of live animals. (This is why they desinfected the Seafood Market immediately.) We now know that the virus is similar to known bat coronaviruses (and probably developed in the bat population), like SARS before, so the genetic analysis points at a zoonotic disease, too. The Wikipedia timeline dates the knowledge of the role of human-to-human transmission at January 20. This coincides with the first WHO mission to China. https://www.who.int/china/news/detail/22-01-2020-field-visit-wuhan-china-jan-2020

The Wikipedia timeline also reports that the government cracked down on people spreading the rumor that there was a SARS epidemic; since that is fake news which could cause a panic, I can empathize with that.


The possibilities for simple conspiracy theories are:
a) Social media "leaks" on the 30th forced the CDC to report to the WHO, and they would have covered it up otherwise. There can be no proof of that.
b) China covered up the knowledge that human-to-human transmission was ongoing. I have not seen any proof of that, either.
I think both are racist because they imply that Chinese medical professionals are irresponsible and do not care for the potential loss of life worldwide.

Neither theory fits the amount of transparency and cooperation that the Chinese have extended to the world.
 

Rico

Senior Member
Thank you Mendel for your input. I apologize with regards to the quoted summary, as I was rushing to have this post completed before cooking some dinner. I concede that I do not know when precisely genome sequencing was started, only that it was shared with the WHO on January 10th (source: "https://www.who.int/docs/default-so...na-joint-mission-on-covid-19-final-report.pdf" pg, 14). On the wikipedia link, it says "Bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BAL) that was eventually used for viral genome sequencing was collected from hospital patients between the 18th and 29th of December, so I assumed that was when the sequencing began. Beyond that, I do not know when the precise date was, which is more trivial than relevant. I will try to attempt to source this when I have time, as it shouldn't be too difficult to find. You are also right about the CCTV. In my haste, I did not process the entire sentence. It would be worth looking back to this again to clarify the timeline in the early days of December.

Regardless, it appears that December 29, is as you say, when "official channels" got involved. I too cannot see any evidence of a coverup before then, but it seems that Dr. Li (who reported Dr. Ai Fen's findings on Dec 30) could not have affected the timeline of this virus. This seems to undermine what the media has been saying. Dr. Zhang Jixian appeared to have been the first to report the findings of a new disease on December 27th, notifying the hospital, which subsequently notified the district CDC (another source: https://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1178756.shtml).

One thing that I remain unclear on is what precisely was happening on December 28th outside of new infection cases, but it does plausible to me that information was just getting passed to the relevant authorities at this point.
 
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Mendel

Active Member
On the wikipedia link, it says "Bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BAL) that was eventually used for viral genome sequencing was collected from hospital patients between the 18th and 29th of December, so I assumed that was when the sequencing began.
The BAL samples were taken for diagnosis of the pneumonia. You only take a small amount to run a test and store the rest in a refrigerator so you can run other tests later. The CDC would have given some of the stored samples to the university researchers who had the means to do the genome sequencing, a normal hospital wouldn't have the means to do that.
 

Agent K

Active Member
Perhaps the "claim" that Ai Fen has disappeared/not disappeared is worthy of investigation in its own thread, given how widely it's been reported? Maybe a place to start would be her Sina Weibo account, which is where the social media comments were posted:

https://weibo.com/u/2662574464
https://www.ibtimes.com/china-coron...-goes-missing-police-using-her-social-2951252
 

Rory

Senior Member

deirdre

Senior Member
Only weird thing there is that they were taken 32 minutes apart.
maybe she decided her hair was too messy in the first one and maybe she was called away (she is a doctor) between fixing her hair for a better photo.

Although she looks sick in both photos. granted she could just be utterly exhausted from work and hot, but her eyes look like mine last week (respiratory illness)-slightly glassy and clouded whites. she also maybe feverish (or just hot), based on her overall sheen. I know those masks get hot.

note: she isn't wearing her hospital badge in the first photo.

edit add: can you still access your source links? I get "access denied".
 
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Rory

Senior Member
can you still access your source links? I get "access denied".
Yep, everything still accessible.

It seems a new post was added yesterday, at 16:03 (timezone I'm not sure of). It simply says "weblink" and leads to this:

1586181395217.png
Source: https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/YAmlU4oDqnr1_qJAph8ZYQ

It's a page on WeChat. Translated to English gives:

1586181525239.png

Despite the arrows, nothing seems to be clickable - though there are links and lots of code when viewing source.

Going by the comments, and certain things in the source, it may be something to do with a video, related to one of the deceased doctor's widows. Maybe it's not viewable in full outside China?
 
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Rory

Senior Member
Going by the comments, and certain things in the source, it may be something to do with a video, related to one of the deceased doctor's widows. Maybe it's not viewable in full outside China?
So it's a link to a video and song, posted to quite a few sites in the last few days. Here it is at the CCTV News website, complete with lyrics and credits:

http://m.news.cctv.com/2020/04/05/ARTInP7wD2jthF84SbNIujyk200405.shtml

Here's one with a working video:

https://news.sina.com.cn/c/xl/2020-04-05/doc-iimxxsth3705501.shtml

It seems to be a tribute to doctors that have passed in the field, as well as other victims of the coronavirus. The reference to the doctor's widow in some of the comments on Dr Ai's Weibo feed is to do with footage near the beginning of the video.
 
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Isosceles

New Member
Hi, I'm new here.

I've spent some time in the last couple of days trying to piece together how the reports of Dr. Ai Fen having gone missing have come to existence. It seems that the only source is a 60 Minutes Australia story that aired on March 29. Here is a link with the relevant timestamp:

Source: https://youtu.be/pEQcvcyzQGE?t=510


All the other news websites have this video as their original source. Just to name a few:

New York Post - https://nypost.com/2020/04/01/whistleblowing-coronavirus-doctor-mysteriously-vanishes/
Reporters Without Borders - https://rsf.org/en/news/whistleblow...r-criticizing-beijings-coronavirus-censorship
Daily Mail - https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/ar...t-public-spread-coronavirus-goes-missing.html

Dr. Ai Fen's weibo account is here:

https://www.weibo.com/u/2662574464

She seems to be posting there regularly, her last post is from two days ago. It's impossible to fact-check if it's truly hers, but it does at least appear to have the "verified" checkmark. Also, even if it were hers, she might not be the one posting there.
I tried to geolocate where a video she posted there (link here) showing the lightshow in Wuhan celebrating the end of lockdown was recorded. I can explain how I did it in another post perhaps, but I came to the conclusion that it was recorded somewhere in this area:

aifen5.jpg

I include the link to Google Maps: https://www.google.com/maps/@30.5775049,114.2962502,17z

You can see that it's very close to the Wuhan Central Hospital where she works. In an interview for the Chinese magazine Ren Wu (translation here), she mentions that she lives on the 40th floor, which seems to be in accordance with the video as well. Most likely she took it from her balcony.

So it seems to me that what we have is on the one hand, everything pointing to the fact that nothing happened to her and she's fine, and on the other hand the Chinese government's practices in repressing free speech and one source from an Australian TV network. I couldn't find a single source for the claim that her family and colleagues worry about her. Curiously, the RSF's piece linked earlier uses a Radio Free Asia's article as a source (link: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/china/concerns-03302020150737.html), but there's nothing in the article mentioning her family or colleagues being concerned!

I think the only way forward is contacting the Australian reporter responsible. Her name is Liz Hayes. Sadly, the only contact info that I was able to find was her twitter account (link: https://twitter.com/thelizhayes). I don't want to just start messaging her there, though. What do you think?
 

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Isosceles

New Member
Some (probably) final thoughts on Ai Fen's case:
On April 14, Radio Free Asia released an article in which they say that they were able to get in contact with her. She told them that she hadn't been detained and that she was the one posting on her weibo account. The article however also quotes a source "familiar with the situation" saying that

"Ai had come under considerable political pressure behind the scenes, and wasn't in a position to talk about it".

So unless we're willing to say that Ai Fen herself is lying about this, I think this should disprove (beyond any reasonable doubt) her disappearance. That still doesn't mean that there potentially wasn't a lot of pressure put on her by the authorities, as RFA's source claims.

As for 60 Minutes Australia, in April I asked them to confirm that they stand behind this story via a feedback form on their site. As expected, they did not bother to respond.

The RFA article link:
https://www.rfa.org/english/news/china/wuhan-doctor-04142020114914.html
 
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