HONG KONG • Hong Kong reported its first death from the coronavirus yesterday, becoming only the second place outside mainland China where a patient has died from the virus.
Hong Kong medics confirmed that a 39-year-old man being treated for the virus had died.
He was a Hong Kong resident who had travelled last month to Wuhan - the Chinese city at the epicentre of the outbreak - before returning home on Jan 23 via a high-speed rail link.
Officials said the resident also had diabetes, but had been stable until his condition deteriorated suddenly.
They said the precise cause of death was unclear, and the case would be passed to the coroner.
So far, the only other reported fatality outside of the Chinese mainland has been in the Philippines.
The coronavirus has killed more than 400 people in China since spreading from the central city of Wuhan. It has spread to more than 25 countries and territories.
Most of the deaths in China have been in Wuhan and the rest of surrounding Hubei province, much of which has been under lockdown for almost two weeks.
Hong Kong now has 17 confirmed infections, the majority of them people who were infected in mainland China.
But four of the cases are suspected to be local transmissions, including two confirmed yesterday afternoon involving people who had no history of recent travel to the mainland.
Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan of Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection said the local transmissions were a cause for concern as it could suggest the city's outbreak was becoming self-sustaining.
"We can't rule out the possibility that there will be massive transmission in the near future. So, the next 14 days are very critical," he told reporters.
On Monday, Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam announced the closure of all but two land border crossings to mainland China in a bid to halt the spread. There has been growing public anger over the government's response to the outbreak, with calls to seal the border entirely - including barring mainland Chinese from flying into the international airport.
A strike by some medical workers entered its second day yesterday. The hospital authorities said that some 4,400 staff were absent - including around 360 doctors and 2,500 nurses - and the strike was having a "serious impact".
There was also an acute shortage of masks.
While Hong Kong maintains close economic and cultural links to the Chinese mainland, a seething distrust of the authorities in Beijing permeates the city.
The 2003 outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) virus, which Beijing initially covered up, killed almost 300 people in Hong Kong and left lasting psychological scars on the densely populated city.
Meanwhile, neighbouring Macau said yesterday that it will close all casinos and many other entertainment venues for two weeks as the world's gambling hub battles the coronavirus, cutting off the lifeblood of the city's economy.
The move came as the former Portuguese colony confirmed two fresh infections, one of whom was a woman who worked in the gaming industry, bringing the total number of cases to 10.
All 41 casinos as well as cinemas, theatres, bars, Internet cafes and nightclubs would shut from midnight yesterday, said Chief Executive Ho Iat-seng, a pro-Beijing appointee who took office in December. He warned that the closures could be extended if the virus continues to spread.
"This is a difficult decision, but we have to do it for the health of our Macau residents," he said, urging the territory's more than 600,000 residents to stay home and go out only for food.
Six major gaming companies had promised not to sack staff or make them take sick pay over the closure period. The only other time Macau had closed its casinos was in 2018, when the city was hit directly by a typhoon.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS