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China’s Communist Party Faces Public Anger As Coronavirus Toll Rises

Chinese coronavirus whistle-blower Li Wenliang is shown in the hospital before his death.

China's ruling Communist Party faced public anger over the death of a doctor who was threatened by authorities for trying to alert the public about the new coronavirus in December, before the outbreak spread and became a global crisis.

Meanwhile, China early on February 8 said the death toll from the virus in the country surged to 722 with the number of infections rising to 34,546.

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing reported on February 8 that a 60-year-old U.S. citizen diagnosed with the virus had died in the city of Wuhan, while Japan said that a citizen of that country, a man in his 60s, also died from the virus in the city, considered to be the epicenter of the outbreak.

A Reuters count of official statements showed that there have been 320 cases now in 27 countries and regions outside mainland China.

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The Chinese government has faced an online uproar over its treatment of doctor Li Wenliang, leading it to strike a conciliatory tone, saying it is sending a team to “fully investigate relevant issues raised by the public.”

The 34-year-old Li, an ophthalmologist, contracted the virus while treating patients and later died.

Experts say Li's work as an eye doctor required him to sit very close to patients during examinations, something that may have subjected him to an especially large dose of the virus that made his illness more severe.

He was one of eight medical professionals in Wuhan who tried to warn colleagues and others when the government did not. He had said that police forced him to sign a statement admitting he was spreading falsehoods.

The government-backed Global Times newspaper said Li's treatment was "evidence of local authorities' incompetence to tackle a contagious and deadly virus."

"Wuhan indeed owes Li Wenliang an apology," editor Hu Xilinx said.

The Amnesty International rights watchdog called his death a "tragic reminder" of how China's obsession with stability leads it suppress vital information.

The case brought to light long-standing complaints that Communist Party officials lie about or cover up disease outbreaks, chemical spills, dangerous consumer products, or financial fraud.

In 2003, China was accused of attempting to cover up the SARS outbreak -- a similar virus -- that killed almost 800 people worldwide.

Chinese citizens in the past have been jailed on charges of rumor-mongering or making trouble.

To fight the spread of the virus, China’s government has sealed off cities, canceled flights, and closed factories, putting strains on the world's second-largest economy and roiling markets worldwide.

Concerns about the virus remained high outside of China.

President Xi Jinping spoke with U.S. President Donald Trump and urged Washington to “respond reasonably" to the outbreak, echoing complaints that some countries are overreacting by restricting Chinese travelers and those who have visited the country recently.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on February 7 said the United States was prepared to provide up to $100 million to assist China and support coronavirus efforts by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO is seeking $675 million for its coronavirus response through April.

In Japan, three more cases were diagnosed on February 8 among 3,700 passengers and crew on the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship, bringing the total of cases to 61. All aboard the ship remain under 14-day quarantine.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters