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Chinese social media censors hashtags after coronavirus whistleblower doctor dies

Here’s what we know about the new coronavirus
WATCH: An outbreak of a mysterious virus has sickened hundreds of people in China, causing some deaths. Here’s what we know about it.

The death of one of China‘s first coronavirus whistleblowers has prompted grief, fear and anger from many people in the country.

The virus, which was first detected in the city of Wuhan, has claimed the lives of hundreds of people and spread to more than 20 countries around the world.

People in China are angry with the government’s handling of the outbreak. Such individuals took to social media with the hashtag #IWantFreedomOfSpeech, which has since been censored by Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, CNBC reports.

According to Reuters, the hashtag revealed many search hits on Thursday night, but garnered none by Friday once it was censored.

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The late Li Wenliang first alerted a group of doctors on social media after seeing seven cases of the virus in December. He and seven other doctors, the publication says, were taken into custody by Wuhan police in January.

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They were accused of spreading “illegal and false information.”

Wenliang later contracted the virus himself and died at 2:58 a.m. at the Wuhan Central Hospital, the hospital announced on Weibo.

He was 34 years old.

It seems as though China’s surveillance culture has ramped up since the outbreak of the virus, which has killed around 600 and infected more than 30,000 people, according to CBS News.

Plane carrying Canadians evacuating China’s coronavirus outbreak lands at CFB Trenton
Plane carrying Canadians evacuating China’s coronavirus outbreak lands at CFB Trenton

A man from Hangzhou returned home after a business trip and was immediately contacted by the police, who had been tracking his whereabouts via his licence plate and noticed he visited Wenzhou, which has had a spate of virus cases.

When he left his home after being told to stay indoors for two weeks, the police and his boss contacted him when facial recognition technology spotted him by Hangzhou’s West Lake.

“I was a bit shocked by the ability and efficiency of the mass surveillance network. They can basically trace our movements with the AI technology and big data at any time and any place,” the man, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.

The virus outbreak has prompted the Chinese government to put to use their sophisticated system of electronic surveillance.

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Mobile apps can tell users if they’ve been on a flight or train with a known coronavirus carrier. Maps even show locations of buildings where infected people live, Reuters reports.

For now, it seems as though most are accepting of the intrusion if it helps combat the international health emergency.

Some are concerned about the government’s involvement in covering up full news of virus outbreaks after they were accused of doing so during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003.

— With files from Reuters

meaghan.wray@globalnews.ca