Chinese tourist in France becomes Europe's first coronavirus fatality

By Kim Willsher in Paris and Simon Murphy

Europe has recorded its first coronavirus fatality, a Chinese tourist in France, it has been confirmed.

The death of the 80-year-old man, who was visiting Paris with his daughter when he was taken to hospital three weeks ago after falling ill, also marks the first coronavirus mortality outside Asia since the start of the outbreak.

His 50-year-old daughter also tested positive for the virus and is being treated in hospital, where she is said to be making a good recovery.

The pair, who are from Hubei, the province at the heart of the Chinese epidemic, are among 11 confirmed coronavirus cases in France. Six of those who contracted the disease in the country remain in hospital, while four have been discharged after recovering.

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The World Health Organization is recommending that people take simple precautions to reduce exposure to and transmission of the Wuhan coronavirus, for which there is no specific cure or vaccine.

The UN agency advises people to:

  • Frequently wash their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap
  • Cover their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough
  • Seek early medical help if they have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share their travel history with healthcare providers
  • Avoid direct, unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals when visiting live markets in affected areas
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked animal products and exercise care when handling raw meat, milk or animal organs to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods.

Despite a surge in sales of face masks in the aftermath of the outbreak of the coronavirus outbreak, experts are divided over whether they can prevent transmission and infection. There is some evidence to suggest that masks can help prevent hand-to-mouth transmissions, given the large number of times people touch their faces. The consensus appears to be that wearing a mask can limit – but not eliminate – the risks, provided they are used correctly.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised UK nationals to leave China where possible. It is also warning that travellers from Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand who develop symptoms of cough or fever or shortness of breath within 14 days of returning the UK should contact the NHS by phone.

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The man died at Bichat hospital on Friday evening of a lung infection caused by the Covid-19 virus, France’s health minister, Agnès Buzyn, said on Saturday. He had arrived in France on 16 January and was taken to hospital nine days later and put into strict isolation.

“His condition declined rapidly and he had been in a critical state for several days,” Buzyn said. “It’s the first death from the coronavirus outside Asia and the first in Europe.”

Of the 11 confirmed cases in France, six remain in hospital – including the Chinese patient’s daughter – where their conditions remain stable. French health authorities say four have recovered. Buzyn said the man’s daughter should be able to leave hospital soon.

On Saturday, China reported that confirmed cases of the virus had risen to almost 66,500 – more than 1,500 people have died. There have been more than 580 confirmed cases outside mainland China, and three deaths – in the Philippines, Hong Kong and Japan.

Europe has reported 46 cases of the Covid-19 virus, which first emerged in central China in December last year. Patients in nine European countries have tested positive for the virus, 16 of them in Germany.