An elderly Chinese tourist in France has died after contracting the COVID-19 coronavirus, becoming the first fatality outside of the Asia-Pacific region in an epidemic that has killed more than 1,500 people in mainland China.
The 80-year-old man, who was from the central Hubei province where the virus originated late last year, arrived in France on January 16, French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn told reporters on Saturday.
The man – whose name has not been made public – was hospitalised in Paris, where his condition quickly deteriorated. He was in a critical condition for several days before dying from a lung infection brought on by the virus.
“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.”
She added that the man’s daughter, who is hospitalised at the Bichar hospital in northern Paris, was no longer a source of concern for health authorities and could be released soon.
France has recorded 11 cases of the virus, out of a global total of 67,000, the vast majority of which are in mainland China.
Of the 11 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,” Buzyn said.
Those six include the 50-year-old daughter of the deceased tourist and five Britons who became infected at a French ski resort.
The epidemic has killed 1,527 people, all but four of which were on the Chinese mainland.
The virus is thought to have originated at a seafood market where wildlife was also traded illegally in the city of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, in December 2019.
More than two dozen countries have confirmed cases of the virus, including in individuals who have not recently travelled to China, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) on January 30 to declare the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.
Since then, scores of airlines have cancelled flights to and from China and several countries have evacuated their citizens from Hubei.
In a further bid to halt the spread of the virus, some countries have shut their borders with China and denied entry to Chinese nationals.
In China itself, some 56 million people in Hubei are living under quarantine, effectively sealed off from the rest of the country.