Memorial for coronavirus whistleblower set up on Main Mall

As news on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has recently gripped the world’s attention, a memorial has been set up on Main Mall for Dr. Li Wenliang, the doctor that first warned the public about the new virus.

Located on a bench near the Walter C. Koerner Library, the memorial consists of flowers, notes and photographs that the UBC community members have brought together to show their respect for Li’s efforts. It’s unclear who set up the memorial.

At 34 years old, Li was known for warning others in December 2019 about a potential “SARS-like” virus spreading throughout the city and becoming a whistleblower on the coronavirus.

As he treated patients who had been diagnosed with the disease, he himself was soon hospitalized and tested positive for the COVID-19 on February 1. Li passed away in the early morning of February 7 in Wuhan Central Hospital, where he worked as an ophthalmologist.

On February 11, UBC psychology professor Dr. Benjamin Cheung posted on Twitter about the impromptu memorial for Li.

“I was surprised to see it, but I was also very touched,” said Cheung. “I didn’t think that it would’ve impacted the UBC community to such an extent that people would specifically create a memorial for him, and it looks like it was for him and for others as well.”

Cheung explained that he thought the death of the Chinese doctor has resulted in more thought about the role of whistleblowers, while also recognizing the many risks faced by medical workers in countries that are unprepared for sudden disease outbreaks.

“I think the biggest thing that people and citizens of the world in general are looking for is transparency from the companies and from governments that they live under, essentially,” he said. “I think whistleblowers are important in … highlighting where transparency is falling short, and … provide transparency where such avenues might not exist or might not be easy to obtain.”

Cheung encouraged others to ensure that they educate themselves about the coronavirus through reliable sources, as well as understanding that many individuals on campus have strong connections to people in the impacted areas.

“You have a lot of students and staff members and even faculty members who have ... families and friends,” said Cheung. “So I think it’s important to recognize the emotional toll that this is having on many members of the UBC community.”

To date, there have been five confirmed cases of coronavirus in BC so far. But on February 19, the Ministry of Health confirmed that one of the patients has fully recovered.