PARIS (AP) — France’s health minister on Saturday announced the first COVID-19 death in Europe, an 80-year-old Chinese tourist who other French authorities say was initially turned away from two French hospitals when he first fell ill.
Minister Agnes Buzyn said she was informed Friday night of the death of the patient, who had been in intensive care at Bichat Hospital in Paris after testing positive in late January.
His daughter also tested positive for the virus that has spread across central China and was hospitalized. However, the health minister said she was doing well and should be leaving Bichat shortly. The hospital is among a handful in France with special isolation rooms.
As of Saturday, four of the 11 confirmed virus cases in France have been “cured” and left the hospital, the latest a French physician on Friday, she said. Six others still remain hospitalized.
The deceased patient, a Chinese tourist from the province of Hubei, had a serious lung infection caused by the COVID-19 virus.
There were contradictory reports about the timing of the man’s illness. Buzyn said he arrived in France on Jan. 16 and was hospitalized on Jan. 25 under strict isolation measures but his condition deteriorated rapidly.
Other French medical officials said earlier that the man had arrived in France on Jan. 23 and quickly fell ill.
Dr. Yazdan Yazdanpanah, head of Bichat’s infectious diseases unit, said the man had visited two French hospitals but because he “didn’t fulfill the definition” of someone at risk of having the virus, the hospitals decided it was unnecessary to test him. The man did not live in Wuhan, the central Chinese city hardest-hit by the virus, but was from Hubei province that includes Wuhan.
He later tested positive and was admitted to Bichat on Jan. 29, Yazdanpanah said.
Nine European countries collectively have 46 cases of the virus that first emerged in central China in December, with Germany having the most at 16.
The virus has infected more than 67,000 people globally and has killed at least 1,526 patients, the vast majority in China. The World Health Organization has called the virus a threat to global health.
Chinese authorities have placed some 60 million people under a strict lockdown, built emergency hospitals and instituted controls across the country to fight the spread of the virus. Restaurants, cinemas and other businesses have been closed nationwide and sports and cultural events have been canceled to prevent crowds from gathering.
In Munich on Saturday, chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told a gathering of the world’s top defense officials and diplomats that his country was “determined to fight and win this battle” against the virus, and suggested that its efforts were paying off.
“Dawn is breaking and we are seeing light coming through,” Wang said through a translator.
He said the epidemic has presented a “severe challenge” to China’s economy growth but said it was well positioned to rebound.
“The fundamentals sustaining strong economic growth have not changed, and will not change,” he said. “After the storm comes the rainbow, and we are confident that China will emerge stronger from the epidemic.”
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said all Italians who sought repatriation from Wuhan due to the coronavirus, now names COVID-19, have returned to Italy. The last was 17-year-old student who arrived on a military flight early Saturday after being twice refused passage due to a fever. The teen has tested negative for COVID-19, and will now spend two weeks in quarantine at a military facility near Rome.