China's anti-graft watchdog on Friday launched a probe into the death of a whistle blower doctor who was reprimanded by police for spreading "rumours" about the coronavirus outbreak in China that has claimed over 630 lives, amid an outpouring of global grief and anger over his demise.
China's ruling Communist Party has sent a high-level investigation team to the epidemic-hit Wuhan city in Central Hubei province to probe Li Wenliang's death on Thursday.
Li, 34, was among eight Wuhan residents who were reprimanded by local police in early January for spreading "rumours" about the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the province.
The doctor died due to the very virus he desperately tried to highlight in December last year through social media and has become a national icon with millions of netizens expressing their grief and anger over the way he was treated.
His death is widely reported by the state-run media which had earlier shunned him.
A special team will head to Wuhan to investigate issues regarding Li, state-run People's Daily quoted China's top anti-corruption agency as saying on Friday.
The action has been approved by the central government and the team will have a comprehensive investigation into matters related to the deceased doctor, China's National Supervisory Commission said in a statement.
Li's death has been mourned by the National Health Commission.
The police reaction in stifling his warning of coronavirus which now has become a national and international disaster has evoked public resentment.
As of Thursday, 636 people have died due to the virus outbreak with the total number of confirmed cases jumping to 3,143, Chinese officials announced on Friday.
"After emergency treatment, Li Wenliang passed away. We deeply regret and mourn Li's death," the Central Hospital of Wuhan announced on Thursday.
The doctor's death triggered an outpouring of millions of comments on China's social media sites as well as concerns from the international community.
"We are deeply saddened by the passing of Dr Li Wenliang. We all need to celebrate work that he did on 2019nCoV," the World Health Organization (WHO) tweeted.
According to his post on Weibo on December 30, Li, an ophthalmologist at the Central Hospital of Wuhan, warned in the online chat group WeChat that he had seen a report that showed positive test results of SARS for seven patients.
On January 3, Li and the seven others were summoned by Wuhan police for "spreading fake information on the internet", state-run China Daily reported.
They were reprimanded but not fined or detained, it quoted police as saying. Li continued his normal work at the Wuhan hospital until January 10 when he came down with cough and fever, symptoms of the coronavirus.
"I was finally confirmed as being infected by the novel coronavirus," Li wrote on February 1 on Weibo, adding a dog emoji.
The post got more than 1.6 million thumbs-ups and over 400,000 netizens expressed their best wishes for him.
On Thursday evening, several Weibo posts said Li had died from the novel coronavirus and the updates went viral on social media, sparking immense sorrow and outrage among netizens.
Significantly, during midnight the Central Hospital of Wuhan denied Li had died, saying he was critical and under emergency treatment.
The post soon attracted millions of netizens to pray for the doctor.
"I won't sleep tonight!!! Wait for a miracle online!" said one comment that received 350,000 thumbs-up.
Comments that received tens of thousands of thumbs-up included: "Please! Save him!" and "I am waiting for a miracle for medicine, for emergency treatment and for a hero!"
A top epidemiologist at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC) told state-run Global Times that "we should highly praise the eight Wuhan residents".
"They were wise before the outbreak," Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist at the CCDC, said, adding that any judgment, though, needs to be backed by scientific evidence.