An elderly Chinese tourist hospitalised in France has died of the novel coronavirus, becoming the first fatality in Europe, French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn says.
France has recorded 12 cases of the virus, out of a global total of 69,092 according to Centres for Disease Control data collated by Johns Hopkins University.
The vast majority of those suffering from the virus are in China. The epidemic has killed 1,666 people.
Ms Buzyn said she was informed on Friday that the 80-year old man, who had been treated at the Bichat hospital in northern Paris since January 25, died of a lung infection due to the coronavirus.
“This is the first fatality by the coronavirus outside Asia, the first death in Europe,” Ms Buzyn told reporters.
“We have to get our health system ready to face a possible pandemic propagation of the virus, and therefore the spreading of the virus across France.”
Ms Buzyn said the Chinese man, originally from Hubei province, arrived in France on January 16. His condition quickly deteriorated and he had been in a critical condition for several days.
His daughter, who is also hospitalised in Paris, was no longer a source of concern for health authorities and could be released soon, the minister said.
Out of 12 cases in France, four patients were successfully treated and have checked out of hospital.
“Six patients remain hospitalised but are no longer a source of concern today,” Ms Buzyn said.
Outside mainland China, there have been about 500 cases in some 24 countries and territories. Until the death in France, there had been three deaths outside mainland China, with one in Japan, one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines.
US to evacuate citizens from coronavirus cruise
This came as the United States moved to evacuate Americans from a cruise ship quarantined at a Japanese port.
The US said it would send an aircraft to Japan to bring back US passengers on the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess, where the most coronavirus infections outside China have occurred.
The US Embassy in Tokyo said on Saturday in a letter to passengers that a chartered plane would arrive in Japan on Sunday evening and that it recommended “out of an abundance of caution” that US citizens disembark and return home for further monitoring.
The passengers would be required to undergo further quarantine of 14 days upon arriving in the US and if they chose not to return on the flight, they would not be able to return home “for a period of time”, the letter said.
“We understand this is frustrating and an adjustment, but these measures are consistent with the careful policies we have instituted to limit the potential spread of the disease,” the letter stated.
It also said passengers would be screened before the flight and the US Government was working with Japan so that any people with symptoms would receive proper care if they could not board the plane.
The Australian Embassy in Tokyo emailed citizens aboard the cruise ship to say the federal government is also examining options to assist more than 200 Australians quarantined on board.
The cruise ship, owned by Carnival Corp, has been quarantined since arriving in Yokohama on February 3, after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong before it travelled to Japan was diagnosed with the virus.
It had some 3,700 passengers and crew on board. Another 67 people have tested positive for the virus, Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said on Saturday, bringing the total to 285 cases. Those testing positive are transferred to Japanese hospitals.
Japanese public broadcaster NHK has reported that there were more than 400 US citizens on board.
The cruise liner’s quarantine is set to end on Wednesday and while some passengers were disheartened at the prospect of more time in quarantine, others were more understanding.
“They are very concerned about spreading the virus, and there’s no good way to transport people from Japan without possible transfer of virus, so it is the logical thing to do,” Sawyer Smith, 25, said.
The US plane carrying the Diamond Princess passengers will land at Travis Air Force Base in California and some passengers will then continue onward to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
The letter did not specify how long US citizens who choose not to board the chartered flight might have to wait before they could return home, saying only that the final decision would be up to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Australian expert sent to assist
An Australian health expert was deployed to Japan on Sunday to begin helping Australians stranded on the Diamond Princess cruise liner.
At least 15 Australian passengers have so far tested positive to coronavirus.
The Australian infectious diseases specialist was working with United States and Japanese counterparts.
He will focus on elderly and vulnerable Australians and examine options for getting them off the boat.
Meanwhile, an 83-year-old American woman who had been a passenger on a cruise ship that docked in Cambodia has tested positive for the new coronavirus on landing in Malaysia, health authorities said on Saturday.
The American woman flew to Malaysia on Friday from Cambodia along with 144 others from the ship, the Malaysian Health Ministry said in a statement. The woman’s husband had tested negative, it said
The MS Westerdam, operated by Carnival Corp unit Holland America, docked in the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville on Thursday after being shunned by five countries on fears that passengers could be carrying the virus.
The Westerdam, carrying 1,455 passengers and 802 crew, spent two weeks at sea.
The passengers were tested regularly on board and Cambodia also tested 20 once it docked. None were found to have the new coronavirus.
US President Donald Trump has thanked Cambodia for taking in the ship, in a rare message to a country that is one of China’s closest allies and has often been at odds with Washington.