An American in the Chinese city of Wuhan has died of the new coronavirus, the first confirmed non-Chinese death of the illness, while a Japanese man has also died after showing symptoms of the virus.
While the vast majority of cases have been in China, the virus has spread to some two dozen countries abroad, including five British nationals infected in a French mountain resort.
The American man, aged 60, died on Thursday in Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus outbreak in the central Chinese province of Hubei, a US embassy spokesman said in Beijing on Saturday (local time). He did not elaborate.
The death toll in mainland China rose to 723 on Saturday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said, looking likely to pass the 774 deaths recorded globally during the 2002–2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
Most of the deaths in China have occurred in and around Wuhan. Across mainland China, the number of cases stood at 34,598, the WHO said.
The virus has spread to 27 countries and regions, according to a Reuters count based on official reports, infecting more than 330 people.
Two deaths have been reported outside mainland China — in Hong Kong and the Philippines. Both victims were Chinese nationals.
Child among British citizens infected
The latest patients include five British nationals staying in the same chalet at a ski village in Haute-Savoie in the French Alps, health officials said, raising fears of further infections at a busy period in the ski season.
The five, including a child, had been lodged in the same chalet with a person who had been in Singapore.
They were not in a serious condition, the officials said.
France issued a new travel advisory for its citizens, saying it did not recommend travelling to China unless there was an “imperative” reason.
Two schools in that area would be temporarily closed next week, regional health official Jean-Yves Grall said.
Italy asked children travelling from China to stay away from school for two weeks voluntarily.
Chinese-ruled Hong Kong introduced a two-week quarantine on Saturday for all people arriving from the mainland, or who had been there during the previous 14 days.
Another three people on a cruise liner off Japan tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total number of confirmed cases from the ship to 64, Japan’s health ministry said.
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd on Friday banned “any guests holding Chinese, Hong Kong or Macau passports, regardless of when they were there last” from boarding the company’s ships.
WHO epidemiologist Mike Ryan said the number of new cases in Hubei had stabilised over the past four days, “which may reflect the impact of control measures put in place”.
News of the death on Friday of Li Wenliang, a doctor who was reprimanded by police for raising the alarm about the new coronavirus, sparked outrage on Chinese social media and rekindled memories of how Beijing was slow to tell the world about the SARS outbreak.
The virus has been a blow to China’s already-slowing economy, with Goldman Sachs cutting its first-quarter GDP growth target to 4 per cent from 5.6 per cent previously and saying a deeper hit is possible.
“It’s certainly not going to be a return to normal next week,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, senior China economist at Capital Economics in Singapore.