Wang Guangfa, from Beijing’s Peking University First Hospital, confirmed he had contracted the flu-like virus in a social media post on Wednesday.
The respected medic was a leading figure in China‘s battle against the SARS virus in 2002 and 2003.
He now believes he caught the disease because he didn’t wear protective eyewear.
Wang had reportedly been mocked by some in the media after contracting the disease, despite saying it was “preventable and controllable” just two weeks earlier.
The respiratory expert has now said he may have contracted the disease because of a lack of eye protection when visiting fever clinics and isolation wards in Wuhan, Hubei province, where the outbreak started.
He confirmed he had been infected with the coronavirus (2019-nCov), but remarkably has claimed to have recovered.
Wang said: “At the time we were highly vigilant and wore N95 masks. But then I suddenly realised that we didn’t wear protective glasses.”
He said he developed conjunctivitis in his left eye after returning to Beijing, and around three hours later started suffering from a fever and catarrh — an excessive discharge or buildup of mucus in the nose and throat.
Wang thought he just had the flu at first as he hadn’t seen conjunctivitis in a coronavirus patient yet.
But he later took a test for the disease when regular flu medicine didn’t work and tested positive.
He said the most likely explanation was that he contracted the virus through his eyes.
National Health Commission expert Li Lanjuan said that staff who had direct contact with coronavirus patients needed to wear protective glasses while other people only need face masks.
At least 830 cases of the virus have been reported in China, with infected patients also confirmed in the United States, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam and Singapore.
The latest death toll from the disease is 26.
On Friday, China announced the construction in six days of an emergency hospital in Wuhan to tackle the disease.
The prefab facility will have enough beds for 1,000 patients and is expected to be completed by Monday.
No cases have yet been confirmed in the UK, but on Thursday, four patients were treated in Glasgow for suspected coronavirus after travelling from Wuhan.
The UK is hunting for 2,000 Chinese arrivals from Wuhan after 14 patients were tested for coronavirus.
Yesterday, video showed infected patients “lying dead in the streets” following the lockdown in Wuhan.