France confirms first 3 coronavirus cases

France on Friday announced three confirmed cases of the coronavirus, the first reported in Europe, and the country’s health minister said new cases are likely to follow.

Authorities said all three people had travelled to China. Two of them belonged to the same family. 

Health Minister Agnès Buzyn said two were hospitalized, in isolation, one in Paris, and the other in the southwestern city of Bordeaux. Details about the third person weren’t immediately disclosed.

In part because of Europe’s open borders, the minister said she expects more cases.

“We see how difficult it is in today’s world to close the frontiers. In reality, it’s not possible,” Buzyn said.

“We have two cases. We will probably have other cases.”

Buzyn said speed in diagnosing new cases will be essential in slowing the spread of the virus. She said she believes that one reason why France is the first European country to have confirmed cases is that it has developed a test allowing medics to rapidly diagnose the sickened.

“You have to treat an epidemic as you would a fire; that’s to say find the source very quickly,” she said.

One of the patients, a 48-year-old man, passed through Wuhan, the epicentre in China for the virus, before travelling to France on Wednesday, the minister said. He has been hospitalized in Bordeaux since Thursday. She said he is a French national who travelled to China for work and who lives in the Bordeaux area.

The Bordeaux patient was in contact with about 10 people before he was taken into care, the minister said. French authorities are seeking to contact them.

The second patient is hospitalized in a large city hospital in Paris. The minister said the patient had also been to China but that she had little other information about the case. It was confirmed shortly before she spoke at a news conference.

The minister urged people who suspect they’ve gotten ill to call emergency services and to stay at home to avoid spreading the virus. She said those who came into contact with the Bordeaux patient would be told likewise.

A woman wearing a protective face mask delivers a leaflet on the coronavirus in Hong Kong, on Friday. China broadened its unprecedented, open-ended lockdowns to encompass around 23 million people Friday to try to contain a deadly new virus. (Achmad Ibrahim/The Associated Press)

Spreading to other countries

The number of confirmed cases around the world has climbed sharply to more than 850, the bulk of them in China. There have been at least 26 deaths, all of them in China.

The vast majority of cases have been in and around Wuhan or involved people who visited the city or had personal connections to those infected.

Fewer than two dozen cases in all have been confirmed outside mainland China, in Hong Kong, Macao, the United States, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam.

On Friday, the U.S. reported its second case, involving a Chicago woman in her 60s, who was hospitalized after returning from China.

The patient travelled to Wuhan in late December and flew back to Chicago last Monday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

She is quarantined in hospital and in “stable condition,” the CDC said. The woman has not taken public transport or attended mass gatherings since returning, state health officials said.

“While CDC considers this a serious public health threat, based on current information, the immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV to the general American public is considered low at this time.”

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