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COVID-19: The Doctor who found it and the price she paid

Updated: Jul 12, 2020

This is her story...

Photo: South China Morning Post Handout

Today, in the US...

The US has long surpassed every other nation on the planet in terms of the impact and the resultant fatalities from the war against the Corovavirus. It seems the entire nation continues to get dragged along this tragic trajectory while trying everything in it's capacity to flatten the curve.

A pastor at the Green-Wood Cemetery on Saturday in Brooklyn, N.Y. There have been more than 8,000 deaths from the virus in the state.

Photo: Jeenah Moon/Reuters

Source: The Wall Street Journal, April 11, 2020

Today April 11, 2020 the US touched another grim milestone as the nationwide death toll crossed 20,000. The most alarming sign is an increasing number of front line workers - nurses, policemen and firemen testing positive for COVID-19. While all this is going on, a determined group of investigative journalists around the world are digging deeper into the undisclosed facts surrounding the emergence of this virus from the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Who discovered the Coronavirus?

The internet is awash with references to Dr. Li Wenliang, the ophthalmologist and physician from Wuhan Central Hospital who first blew the whistle on the new virus that had started infecting the residents of the accursed city. However, a larger question which has been ignored by many is - Who gave the whistle to Dr. Li Wenliang?

People wearing masks attend a vigil for Chinese doctor Li Wenliang on Feb. 7, 2020. Source: Kin Cheung/AP Photo

On Dec 30, 2019, Li Wenliang sent a message to a group of fellow doctors warning them about a possible outbreak of an illness that resembled severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Meant to be a private message, he encouraged them to protect themselves from infection.

However, Dr. Li was not the first one to stumble upon this new virus. He received his information from the person who observed this virus before anyone else could. Her name is Dr. Ai Fen. She was the Director of the Emergency ward at the Wuhan Central Hospital. The last known days of her public life and the moral courage she demonstrated therein became the reason why the world found out about China's cover up.

Dr. Ai Fen was the first to order tests on the early Coronavirus patients. The patients were showing flu like symptoms but usual treatment methods were not working on them. Once the results of the tests were back, the findings were shocking. The pathological report called it a SARS corona virus. Dr. Fen realized that she had come across an organism never seen before. On December 30, 2019 she circled the diagnosis, took a photo of the report and shared it with a friend. Soon the report was circulated across Wuhan's medical circles. Other doctors started discussing this new virus causing a mysterious disease. Dr. Li Wenliang was one of them. That is about when the local Chinese authorities got alerted. They took Dr. Li Wenliang into custody and realized that Dr. Ai Fen was the source.

Dr. Ai Fen. Photo: Handout

Source: South China Morning Post

Censure and Public Reprimand

Dr. Fen received a warning from her hospital, not to discuss the matter any further. Two days later, she was called before the hospital's Disciplinary Inspection Committee and charged with spreading rumors and disturbing stability.

During her reprimand, Dr. Fen was told to notify all staff in her department not to disclose anything about the disease – and to say nothing about it to anyone, not even to her husband.

A translated copy of the reprimand to Dr. Ai Fen


Dr. Fen tried reaching out to her seniors but she was stonewalled. She tried to speak out on her knowledge of the human-to-human transmission which this virus was demonstrating, but no one listened to her.

Meanwhile, the weeks surrounding the Chinese New Year of January 25, 2020 saw millions of Chinese travelers infected with the Coronavirus travel to almost every corner of the globe. The stage for a global pandemic had been set.

Dr. Ai Fen's Interview and Disappearance

In March 2020, Gong Jingqi, a reporter working with the Chinese magazine, Renwu (or People) contacted Dr. Ai Fen. In the fateful interview that followed, Dr. Fen narrated her entire experience with the Coronavirus including the attempted cover ups orchestrated by the Chinese authorities. Dr. Fen was quoted to have said, “If I had known what was to happen, I would not have cared about the reprimand. I would have f*****g talked about it to whoever, where ever I could.” She also said, “I knew there must be human to human transmission.

The story was called, “The One Who Handed Out the Whistles,” a reference to Ai Fen’s insistence in her interview that she is not a “whistleblower,” but that her sharing of the original diagnostic report had enabled others, including Li Wenliang, to blow the whistle.

Government authorities spun into action, immediately.

A notice on WeChat announces that a post the People magazine feature story has been removed.

Source: China Media Project, Whistling against Deception

Shortly thereafter, Dr. Ai Fen "disappeared" without a trace.

Till date her whereabouts are unknown.


About the Author

As an American, lived in South Asia and love South Asia as one of the most politically and culturally active sections of the globe. My dad's tenure in New Delhi as a journalist from the Washington Post, has provided me the opportunity to travel extensively throughout the Indian subcontinent and get to know its people and the nations it is made up of.

Unlike most American kids of my generation, I did not spend my teenage years in the US. Instead I backpacked with my journalist dad travelling the length and breadth of the South Asian subcontinent, as he covered the region for his daily and weekly dispatches to the Washington Post.

As a result, I came to know this melting pot of cultures, ethnicities and people like few in my generation back home can even dream to acquaint themselves of even if they joined the most prestigious of the think tanks in Washington DC.

What do I do for a living? Having worked with the Big 5 corporations, I currently do free lance technology consulting for corporations struggling to transform their technology of today into where they need it to be tomorrow.

I can be reached at

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