Li explained that, according to a test he had seen, the illness was a coronavirus -- a large family of viruses that includes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
Memories of SARS run deep in China, where a pandemic in 2003 killed hundreds following a government cover up. "I only wanted to remind my university classmates to be careful," he said.
Li, a 34-year-old doctor working in Wuhan, the central Chinese city at the epicenter of the deadly coronavirus outbreak, told his friends to warn their loved ones privately. But within hours screenshots of his messages had gone viral -- without his name being blurred. "When I saw them circulating online, I realized that it was out of my control and I would probably be punished," Li said.
He was right.
Soon after he posted the message, Li was accused of rumor-mongering by the Wuhan police. He was one of several medics targeted by police for trying to blow the whistle on the deadly virus in the early weeks of the outbreak. The virus has since claimed at least 425 lives and sickened more than 20,000 people globally -- including Li.
His diagnosis has sparked outrage across China, where a backlash is growing against state censorship around the illness and an initial delay in warning the public about the deadly virus.