France confirms first virus death outside Asia

France confirms first virus death outside Asia

Chinese tourist dies in Paris, lockdown intensifies in Wuhan as cases top 66,000

A clerk scans a customer’s mobile phone for payment at a checkout counter inside a supermarket in Beijing on Saturday. (Reuters Photo)
A clerk scans a customer’s mobile phone for payment at a checkout counter inside a supermarket in Beijing on Saturday. (Reuters Photo)

An elderly Chinese tourist has died in France, marking the first death outside Asia from the coronavirus, France’s health ministry said on Saturday. The virus has killed more than 1,500 people in China.

There were 2,641 new confirmed infections in China, the National Health Commission said, bringing the total to almost 66,500. In Wuhan, where the outbreak is centred, authorities further tightened the already strict quarantine on residents.

Wuhan residents will now be allowed to leave residential compounds only for medical care. Other cities that have put lockdowns in place have allowed people to leave every few days to buy food.

Neighbourhoods in Wuhan will be barricaded off to keep people from getting in or out, and non-residents won’t be able to enter neighbourhoods that aren’t theirs.

The virus is showing no signs of abating outside of China. Japan and Malaysia on Saturday confirmed new cases, as did Thailand, where the first local health worker to contract the disease was diagnosed.

In Paris, French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said she had been told about the death of the 80-year-old patient — who had been in hospital in Paris since late January — late on Friday, adding that his condition “had deteriorated rapidly” after several days in critical condition.

Six people with the virus remain in hospital in France, she said, adding that none were seriously ill.

One of them was the dead Chinese tourist’s 50-year-old daughter and the rest were British nationals who were infected by a compatriot at a French ski resort.

Three other deaths — in the Philippines, Hong Kong and Japan — have so far been recorded among the 600 virus cases outside mainland China. About 35 of the cases have been reported in the European Union.

The most concentrated number of cases outside China is on a cruise ship quarantined off the Japanese coast, which is holding at least 285 people with the virus among its 3,700 crew and passengers.

The US embassy in Tokyo has said it would fly roughly 400 Americans on board the ship back to their home country. In other developments:

‘Short-lived’ impact

“The epidemic has posed a severe challenge to China’s economic and social development,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said an a security conference in Munich. “Nonetheless, the difficulties will be temporary and short-lived.

“With its strong resilience and vitality, the Chinese economy is well-positioned to overcome all risks and challenges. The fundamentals sustaining sound economic growth have not changed and will not change.”

Tests on animals

China is testing some vaccines against the coronavirus on animals, Zhang Xinmin, an official with the science and technology ministry, said on Saturday.

Earlier, authorities said traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) was being used along with Western medicines on patients affected by the coronavirus. TCM was applied on more than half of confirmed cases in Hubei province.

“Our efforts have shown some good result,” said Wang Hesheng, the province’s new health commission head, without elaborating.

Isolation in Beijing

The Chinese capital of more than 21 million residents has told people to quarantine themselves at home for two weeks in the latest attempt to keep the virus from spreading.

New arrivals should stay at home for observation for 14 days because it’s sometimes unclear to authorities which provinces they may have visited or transited in, said He Qinghua, an official with the ministry of public health. He did not specify who exactly the quarantine would apply to.

Travel market plunge

Air, rail and road travel in China got slammed during the peak Lunar New Year season as virus fears prompted people to abandon trips.

Passenger travel would likely fall 45% on-year during the 40-day travel season that ends Feb 18, the transport ministry said. Between Jan 25 and Feb 14, airlines carried an average of 470,000 people a day, only a quarter of last year’s volume. Passengers from Feb 15-23 were only a tenth of the peak period.

Cash quarantined too

China has cut off the transfer and allocation of old banknotes across provinces, and between cities most affected by the outbreak, according to Fan Yifei, deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China.

The central bank also ramped up measures to sanitise old money to reduce contagion risks and added 600 billion yuan (US$86 billion) of new cash for Hubei, he said.

NZ extends travel curbs

New Zealand said temporary restrictions on travel from China have been extended for a further eight days, calling it “a precautionary approach” and a matter of public health.

The country is preventing foreign nationals traveling from, or transiting through, mainland China from entering, and the position will be reviewed every 48 hours.

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