A prominent respiratory expert who originally told Chinese state media that the coronavirus was under control and preventable has admitted that his choice of words was inappropriate.
Wang Guangfa, head of the department of pulmonary medicine at Peking University First Hospital in Beijing, compared himself and other medical professionals tackling the outbreak to soldiers walking onto a battlefield.
“All the bullets are flying,” said Dr. Wang, in an interview with Jiemian, a finance-focused news site founded by Shanghai United Media Group, which is controlled by the government of Shanghai.
In many ways the doctor, who has been widely criticized for his reassuring early statements, has come to symbolize how slowly China recognized the urgency of the outbreak. Dr. Wang, who initially said that the coronavirus could not be spread by human-to-human contact, later contracted it himself, apparently during a visit to Wuhan.
As the virus began to spread through Wuhan in early January, people who spoke out about it online were silenced by censors and, in some cases, held by the police. When journalists from Hong Kong — whose news media were among the first to shed light on the virus — visited a Wuhan hospital, police officers detained them for hours.
In his interview with Jiemian, published on Friday, Dr. Wang said he had misdiagnosed himself as having flu, and that he had waited days before checking himself into a hospital. He said he had since recovered and was discharged on Thursday.
Asked why he had originally called the coronavirus “preventable and controllable,” Dr. Wang blamed limited information at the time of his Wuhan visit.
His interview has been widely shared on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform. Some of the most popular comments are from angry users.
“‘Could be prevented and controlled,’ Wang Guangfa,” said one user, who wrote under a pseudonym based on “Gorbachev” in Chinese characters. “Because of this line, the most critical half-month was squandered! And resulted in this.”