An American became the first confirmed non-Chinese victim of the new coronavirus on Saturday while a Japanese man also died with symptoms consistent with the disease, as the epidemic looked set to pass the death toll from the SARS pandemic.
The 60-year old US citizen diagnosed with coronavirus died at Jinyintan Hospital in China’s Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus outbreak, on February 6, a US embassy spokesman in Beijing said.
A Japanese man in his sixties and hospitalized with pneumonia in Wuhan, in central Hubei province, also died after suffering symptoms consistent with the new coronavirus, Japan’s foreign ministry said.
The US declared a public health emergency last week over the coronavirus outbreak and said it would take the extraordinary step of barring entry to the United States of foreign nationals who have traveled to China.
As of noon on Thursday, 17 foreigners were being quarantined and treated for the disease in China, according to the latest government figures.
The death toll in mainland China rose by 86 to 722 on Saturday, according to authorities, and is poised to pass the 774 deaths recorded globally during the 2002-2003 pandemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), another coronavirus that jumped from animals to humans in China.
During the SARS outbreak between November 2002 and July 2003, the number of reported cases was 8,098, suggesting a far lower transmission rate than the coronavirus. Nearly 35,000 people have been infected by the new strain.
Two deaths have been reported outside of mainland China – in Hong Kong and the Philippines – from more than 330 cases in 27 countries and regions. Both of those victims were Chinese nationals.
The epidemic has prompted the government to lock down cities home to tens of millions of people.
China’s Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, on a visit to quarantined Wuhan this week, instructed officials to take a “wartime” approach as they implement drastic measures that include combing the city for feverish residents.
With panic spiralling around the globe — more than 320 cases have emerged in nearly 30 other countries — researchers were racing to find treatments and a vaccine to fight the virus.