An 80-year-old Chinese man has died from the coronavirus in a French hospital, becoming the first fatality reported outside Asia from the epidemic.
The death came as Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, slammed the international “overreaction” to the new coronavirus and insisted the outbreak is “under control” because of Beijing’s “comprehensive” response to the threat.
So far the overwhelming majority of the 67,000 people known to have been infected and the resulting 1,527 deaths have been in the Chinese city of Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei province, but the virus has spread through airline passengers to other Asian cities and other continents.
Agnès Buzyn, French health minister, said on Saturday that the man who died in the Bichat hospital in Paris was a Chinese tourist from Hubei who arrived in France on January 16. He had been in isolation since January 25 and died of a lung infection.
“His condition deteriorated rapidly and for several days he had been in a critical state,” Ms Buzyn said, adding that he was “the first person to have died from the coronavirus outside Asia, and the first death in Europe”.
She said the man’s daughter had also been hospitalised with the virus, but her condition was not worrying and she was expected to be released soon.
“We must prepare our health system for a possible pandemic spread of the virus,” the health minister added.
China’s foreign minister insisted that China had been “transparent” about the novel disease and said some foreign countries had triggered “unnecessary panic” by imposing safeguards beyond reasonable quarantine measures.
Mr Wang made his comments in a Reuters interview that highlighted deepening tensions between Beijing and Washington, which has put travel curbs on visitors from China.
“Some countries have stepped up measures, including quarantine measures, which are reasonable and understandable, but for some countries they have overreacted, which has triggered unnecessary panic,” Mr Wang said, ahead of his scheduled appearance at the annual Munich Security Conference.
He added that he was sure such states would reflect and gradually relax their restrictions because “at the end of the day, these countries need to interact with China”.
Mr Wang said Beijing had dealt with the “challenge to China and the world” presented by the “sudden outbreak”, adding that the government had been transparent in its conduct and had helped limit the spread of the virus outside the country.
“We’re not just defending the life, safety and health of Chinese citizens, but also making our contribution for global public health, and that should be recognised,” he said.
China’s Hubei province, the centre of the coronavirus outbreak reported 116 new deaths from the virus to the end of Thursday, according to a statement from the province’s health commission published on Friday.
The number followed a sharp increase for the previous day’s tally as authorities included cases with only a clinical diagnosis and not a positive laboratory test for the first time.
Only 11 cases in all have been reported in France, one of them a doctor, but four have already recovered and the condition of the remaining six are not a cause of concern.
Until Ms Buzyn’s announcement, only three deaths had been reported outside China, one each in Hong Kong, Japan and the Philippines.
Coronavirus infections have also been discovered in various east Asian cities, including Singapore and Thailand, as well as in the US and Europe. Egypt announced the first case in Africa on Friday.