Multiple Chinese-language outlets reported this week of the death of Dr. Ma Huafeng, a doctor fighting the Chinese coronavirus on the front lines at a hospital in Hubei province, of suicide, along with his son.
Ma worked at the Yichang Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Yichang, a Hubei city about a four-hour drive from the province’s capital, Wuhan, where the pandemic originated. Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, is an alternative series of spiritual principles used by some in China to attempt to cure diseases. It is based on the theory that the body has a perfect balance, or qi, that must be maintained to be healthy. TCM doctors use natural remedies to restore qi. The Chinese government reportedly expected to be making as much as $420 billion a year on TCM by 2020.
According to the Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, Ma, age 34, jumped to his death along with his five-year-old son off a building. The local health commission claimed that the murder-suicide preceded domestic tensions caused by unspecified conflict with his wife, who it did not name.
Law enforcement is nonetheless confirming these details through an investigation, Apple Daily claimed on Wednesday local time.
The newspaper also noted that Ma was the subject of an interview in local Hubei media in which he described his life while working to cure Chinese coronavirus patients. The report allegedly stated that Ma endured six-hour shifts without taking breaks for food or water and conducted his work while wearing heavy protective gear. The Apple Daily report also claimed that there was no evidence that Ma was facing any disciplinary action at work or had come into conflict with the Chinese government or his superiors in the hospital prior to his death.
Sing Tao Daily, another Hong Kong newspaper, identified Ma as a member of the Chinese Communist Party.
“It was reported that a family conflict occurred with his wife, a doctor in the Yichang Maternal and Child Health Hospital, and he jumped from the building,” that newspaper asserted.
Media within communist China appear to have also reported on his death. A video news report of the incident by the state-owned Phoenix Television is currently available on Sina Weibo, the Party-approved social media site, at press time.
The Communist Party’s treatment of its doctors during the pandemic has attracted scrutiny, especially given the grueling hours and extensive labor needed of them during the peak of the outbreak. As the origin location of the new coronavirus, China was host to the first doctors exposed to its symptoms and potential damaging power. As early as January, doctors in Wuhan, where the first cases were documented, began warning that they were identifying cases of pneumonia that appeared contagious and recommending basic safety protocol like washing hands often and social distancing.
Some who did so on social media found themselves detained by police. In one particularly notorious incident, Dr. Li Wenliang, who shared safety tips in a WeChat social media group of health workers, was forced to offer a humiliating apology for his posts shortly before dying of a coronavirus infection himself.
The Chinese government all but declared the Chinese wing of the coronavirus pandemic over in March, when dictator Xi Jinping visited Wuhan for the first time since the outbreak. In Wuhan, Xi said that the outbreak “has basically been curbed” and announced new measures to restore the Hubei economy in the short term. A day later, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) declared the situation a pandemic, meaning every region on earth was at risk and likely seeing infections.
Currently, most of China is open for business except for areas in which Beijing admits community spread continues. Many of these areas are in the nation’s north. Jilin, a province that borders North Korea and Russia, began witnessing a boom in cases this month, resulting in isolated lockdowns.
“The current epidemic situation in Jilin [City] is very grim and complicated, and there is a dire risk of the [corona]virus spreading farther. Thus the most rigorous action must be taken to halt the [corona]virus’s spread,” Jilin City’s deputy mayor, Gai Dongping, said at a press conference on Wednesday.
Residents of Jilin City reportedly cannot currently leave the province.
North of Jilin, the province of Heilongjiang saw its capital, Harbin, forced to lock down in April. Beijing blamed foreigners flying in from areas peaking in the number of cases for the new outbreaks.
At a Politburo meeting last week, Xi appeared to admit that his declarations in March were wrong.
“Xi said huge uncertainties still linger over the pandemic, given that the momentum of its global spread has yet to be curbed and the country is still seeing infections among clusters of people in certain areas,” the state-run China Daily reported. “He called for unrelenting epidemic containment measures in Hubei province even as it has switched to epidemic control and prevention efforts on a regular basis.”
The senior leaders at the meeting reportedly agreed to send a “liaison group” from Beijing to Hubei to handle the “uncertainties.”