Coronavirus: Five Brits in France test positive as outbreak spreads

8 February 2020, 19:32 | Updated: 8 February 2020, 19:36

Huang Wenke puts on a protective suit with the help of colleagues before visiting a quarantined home
Huang Wenke puts on a protective suit with the help of colleagues before visiting a quarantined home. Picture: PA

Five British nationals in France have tested positive for coronavirus as the number of confirmed cases globally passed 34,000.

A child is among the group, who were holidaying in the Alps, and had come into contact with a person from Singapore.

French health minister Agnes Buzyn said they were not in a critical condition.

The death toll in China has passed 720 and 3,399 people were diagnosed over the last 24 hours, reversing two days of declines, and prompting further anger directed at the ruling Communist Party.

The public has criticised their response, with tensions rising further over the death of a doctor who was threatened by police after trying to sound the alarm about the disease more than a month ago.

The US embassy in Beijing said a 60-year-old US citizen diagnosed with the virus died in Wuhan on Wednesday, apparently the first American fatality of the outbreak.

Japan's foreign ministry said a Japanese citizen being treated in Wuhan had died of pneumonia and also was likely to have been infected with the virus.

Cruise ship passengers faced more woe as Japan reported three more cases for a total of 64 on one quarantined cruise ship and turned away another.

A British national on his honeymoon on the Diamond Princess tested positive for the virus and will be separated from his new wife as he is taken off the ship for treatment, a fellow passenger has said.

President Xi Jinping spoke with his US counterpart Donald Trump on Friday and urged the US to "respond reasonably" to the outbreak, echoing complaints that some countries are overreacting by restricting Chinese travellers.

Following an online uproar over the government's treatment of Dr Li Wenliang, the Communist Party struck a conciliatory note, saying it is sending a team to "fully investigate relevant issues raised by the public".

Patients infected with the novel coronavirus are seen at a makeshift hospital converted from an exhibition center in Wuhan
Patients infected with the novel coronavirus are seen at a makeshift hospital converted from an exhibition center in Wuhan. Picture: PA

Dr Li, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist, contracted the virus while treating patients, and his death was confirmed early on Friday.

He was one of eight medical professionals in Wuhan who tried to warn colleagues and others when the government did not. He had said that police forced him to sign a statement admitting he spread falsehoods.

Most of the deaths from the virus have been older people with existing health problems, but disease specialists said Dr Li's work - with eye doctors sitting very close to their patients during examinations - may have subjected him to an extra large dose of the virus that made his illness more severe.

In Japan, three more cases were diagnosed Saturday among 3,700 passengers and crew on the quarantined Diamond Princess. Those aboard remain under 14-day quarantine.

Prime minister Shinzo Abe said foreign passengers on another ship, Holland America's Westerdam, will not be allowed into Japan.

He said suspected virus patients were on board.

The ship, which has more than 2,000 people on board, was near Okinawa and was seeking another port, according to Overseas Travel Agency official Mie Matsubara.

Hong Kong began enforcing a 14-day quarantine for arrivals from mainland China on Saturday.

The former British colony has refused to completely seal its border but hopes the quarantine will dissuade travellers from the mainland.

All but one of the deaths in the outbreak have been in China.

China's National Health Commission said about 6,101 of those being treated, or nearly 17 per cent, are in serious condition.

The vast majority of the infected are in China. Roughly 290 others are in about two dozen other countries, including Japan, Thailand, Singapore and South Korea.

The US has reported 12 cases.

Hundreds more Americans evacuated from the stricken zone in China began arriving Friday in the US, where they will be quarantined on military bases for two weeks.