BEIJING - A top doctor in China's fight against the coronavirus is under investigation for plagiarism, weeks after making a social media post questioning the country's zero-tolerance strategy to control the pandemic.
Beijing has basked in its success in bringing to heel a virus that first emerged in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019, but was virtually extinguished through hard lockdowns, closed borders and massive test and trace campaigns.
But the Delta variant has breached China's defenses, with record local infections in dozens of cities -- albeit still in low numbers -- prodding authorities to reintroduce travel restrictions, mass testing and hyperlocal lockdowns.
Zhang Wenhong -- a leading doctor described by state media as "China's Fauci," after the top US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci –- has since said countries have to find a way "to learn to live with it".
"The way China will choose in future will... help establish communication with the world and a return to normal life, while protecting citizens from fear of viruses," Zhang wrote on China's Twitter-like Weibo on July 29.
The suggestion of a softened approach to China's zero-case approach to virus control enraged nationalists who stalk China's social media.
Zhang has found himself accused of "pandering to foreign ideas," while an apparent witch hunt is targeting his academic credentials.
Posts on Weibo accused Zhang of plagiarizing his doctoral thesis published 2 decades ago.
On Sunday, Fudan University in Shanghai said it was "aware of the online criticism and had launched an investigation into the degree it awarded Zhang in 2000."
Zhang did not respond to AFP inquiries on the investigation.
Academics and scientists have rallied around Zhang, in a country where all non-state sanctioned information linked to the pandemic is highly sensitive and has led to arrests and smear campaigns on social media.
"Who will dare to speak out and act according to their professional judgment in the future?" Yan Feng, from Fudan's Chinese literature department, said on Weibo.
In a sign of the risks, a teacher in east China's Jianxi province was detained by police for 15 days after commenting last week on a news article saying the country can "coexist with the coronavirus," according to a local government notice.
China has reported 94,430 cases since the virus first emerged in Wuhan, and the death toll of 4,636 has remained unchanged for nearly a year.
But a recent flare-up at an airport in Nanjing spread to 18 provinces infecting 1,300 people in two months -- although just 13 domestic transmissions were reported on Monday.