Coronavirus: US citizen dies in Wuhan, first foreigner to die from outbreak

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People wearing protective face masks queue outside a pharmacy at Hutong neighborhood, in Beijing, on Feb 7, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW YORK (AFP, BLOOMBERG) - A US citizen has died from the new coronavirus at the epicentre of the epidemic in China, the US embassy said on Saturday (Feb 8), in what appeared to be the first confirmed foreign death from the outbreak.

"We can confirm that a 60-year-old US citizen diagnosed with coronavirus died at a hospital in Wuhan, China, on February 6," an embassy spokesman told AFP, without specifying the person's gender.

"We offer the sincerest condolences to the family for their loss," the spokesman said, adding that no further comment would be made out of respect for the family's privacy.

A Japanese man in his 60s with a suspected coronavirus infection also died in hospital in Wuhan, the Japanese foreign ministry said, adding that it was "difficult" to confirm if he had the illness.

The cause of death was stated as viral pneumonia as it's been difficult to conclude definitively that he had the virus, though there was a high suspicion that he contracted it, the ministry said in a statement, citing Chinese authorities.

The man, who was in his 60s, would be the first Japanese victim of the outbreak if his infection is confirmed.

At least 722 people have died from the virus in China while more than 34,000 have been infected, according to the latest official figures.

Two people have died from the virus outside the mainland: a man from Wuhan in the Philippines and a 39-year-old man in Hong Kong.

The Chinese foreign ministry said on Thursday that 19 foreigners have been infected in China, and two of them have recovered. The ministry refused to disclose their nationalities.

The death toll from the outbreak is inching closer to the total from Sars and may surpass the threshold soon if the disease continues to kill people at its current pace.

The latest illness is clearly spreading at a faster rate. The global toll has reached 724 in about two months, while the 2002-2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars, killed 774 people over a period that lasted about eight months.

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