Death of man from Wuhan in Philippines is first virus fatality outside China

People buying protective masks at a medical supplies store in Manila on Jan 31, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - The Philippines reported on Sunday (Feb 2) the first person known to have died outside China from the novel coronavirus that has killed over 300.

A 44-year-old man from the Chinese central city of Wuhan, the outbreak's epicentre, died on Saturday at a state-run hospital in the capital Manila, Health Secretary Francisco Duque told reporters.

He appears to have been infected before arriving in the Philippines.

He arrived with a 38-year-old Chinese woman on Jan 21 from Wuhan, via Hong Kong. She was the Philippines' first case of a Wuhan virus carrier.

The man developed severe pneumonia, and had seemed to be recovering. But his condition quickly deteriorated over 24 hours.

"This is the first reported death outside China," said Mr Rabindra Abeyasinghe, the World Health Organisation's representative to the Philippines.

"However, we need to take into mind that this is not a locally acquired case. This patient came from the epicentre of this outbreak," he said.

Health officials have been locating passengers who were on the same flights as the two patients infected with the Wuhan virus.

Both had been to the cities of Cebu and Dumaguete in central Philippines.

Another patient, a 29-year-old Chinese man from Yunnan province, died last Wednesday, but most likely from another cause.

Twenty-four patients had tested negative, but at least 23 more were still being monitored.

"This health event is fast-evolving and fluid. We are continuously recalibrating our plans and efforts as the situation develops," said Dr Duque.

He said there were no reports of community spread so far.

Hours ahead of the health ministry's announcement, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered a ban on all travellers from China.

The Philippines is the latest to prevent travellers from mainland China from entering, as governments sought to keep those exposed to the potentially lethal virus from their shores.

The government said the ban excludes Filipinos and holders of permanent resident visas who had been to China. But they would be quarantined for two weeks upon arrival.

Filipinos have also been banned from travelling to China, including Hong Kong and Macau.

"Our persons under investigation have not been increasing rapidly. I think, with the ban now, it will be a lot easier for us because we would only be looking after fewer people coming to the Philippines," said the health ministry's spokesman Eric Domingo.

Close to 1.5 million Chinese tourists visited the Philippines in the first 10 months of last year, and over four million more are believed to be working in the country's booming offshore gaming industry.

Mr Peter Tay, a Singaporean who runs a travel agency in Boracay, told The Straits Times the popular island resort stood to lose over 435,000 Chinese tourists with the ban.

That is a quarter of the total number of tourists who go there each year.

Occupancy rates at some hotels had already plunged to 30 per cent, and nearly half of the travel agencies on the island that rely solely on the Chinese market were planning to shut down, said Mr Tay, who is also vice-president of the Boracay Island Travel Agencies Tour Operators Association.

"The problem in the coming months, if this thing will not go away, is that travellers not just from China but also from other countries may not want to travel. They'd rather stay at home where they feel they will be safer," he said.

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