China will designate medical workers who died of the novel coronavirus while working to combat the disease as "martyrs," according to state media.
The move comes as the government has faced criticism for not providing frontline medics with sufficient equipment or support as they struggle to contain the outbreak, particularly at the epicenter in Hubei province.
As of February 11, more than 3,000 medical workers were believed to have been infected with the virus, according to a study published this week by the Chinese Centers for Disease Control.
First hospital head to die: On Tuesday morning, Wuhan’s Health Commission announced that Liu Zhiming, director of the Wuchang hospital in Wuhan, had died from the virus.
Liu was a neurosurgeon and is the first hospital director to die as a result of the coronavirus epidemic, which started in the city of Wuhan in late 2019.
Whistleblower's death: One of the most prominent doctors to die of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, was Li Wenliang, who had previously been reprimanded by police in Hubei for "spreading rumors" about the virus, after he tried to warn university classmates of a SARS-like infection spreading in Wuhan.
Li's death sparked widespread outrage in China, fueling frustration with how the authorities have handled the outbreak. Revelations of doctors and nurses lacking equipment, being forced to shave their heads, and working almost until they drop, has fueled more frustration.
National heroes: Chinese state media has repeatedly praised frontline workers for their heroics, highlighting their sacrifices and travails -- though without some of the criticism medics have voiced in overseas and private Chinese media.
By declaring deceased doctors and nurses martyrs, the government is adding them to the pantheon of national and political heroes like Lei Feng, the quasi-mythical Red Army soldier lauded by Mao Zedong.
While no one doubts the very real heroism being practiced by Chinese doctors, it's unclear if the veneration of them after they die will be enough to undo the anger caused by the government's alleged failures to protect them in life.