Chinese doctor who taught about SARS dies at 91

By Laurie Chen

BEIJING (Reuters) – A Chinese military doctor who uncovered the full extent of the SARS epidemic when it hit Beijing in 2003 has died at the age of 91, according to his friends and local media reports.

In an open letter to state media in 2003, Jiang Yanyong accused the government of deliberately underreporting the spread of the respiratory disease. The disease killed nearly 800 people worldwide.

The news of his death was not published in the Chinese state media, as is usual with politically sensitive public figures.

Hu Jia, a human rights activist who said he was a longtime friend of Jiang’s, told Reuters he died in a Beijing military hospital.

Two other family friends of Jiang’s, Bao Pu and Bao Jian, tweeted about his death earlier this week. Neither immediately responded to a request for comment from Reuters.

“Dr. Jiang Yanyong, who exposed the cover-up of the SARS epidemic and was known for speaking the truth, has passed away,” Bao Pu wrote on Twitter.

Some media outlets, including the South China Morning Post, said he died of pneumonia on Saturday, citing sources. Reuters could not immediately confirm this.

Jiang’s death came during the annual sessions of China’s parliament, a politically sensitive time when security measures are being stepped up in the capital.

Jiang came from a wealthy banking family and was a longtime member of the ruling Chinese Communist Party. He served as chief surgeon in a large military hospital in Beijing.

Following his 2003 letter accusing authorities of covering up SARS, the Chinese government subsequently fired several officials, including the health minister, and said it would respond more transparently to the crisis.

Jiang – who also criticized the Communist Party leadership in a 2004 open letter for the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989, a taboo subject in China – said in 2009 that he subsequently spent months under house arrest and was banned, after to travel overseas.

According to the World Health Organization, SARS infected 8,908 people worldwide after it emerged in southern China’s Guangdong province, eventually killing 774 people.

The vast majority of cases and deaths have been recorded in China.

Some countries, including the United States, have also criticized China for not sharing enough data on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, which broke out in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, and the spread of the disease in China.

Beijing has said it was transparent and said such criticism was politically motivated.

(Reporting by Laurie Chen; Editing by John Geddie and Raissa Kasolowsky)


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