BEIJING: France reported the first fatality from the new coronavirus outside Asia on Saturday fuelling global concerns about the epidemic, as the death toll from the outbreak jumped past 1,500 in China.
More than 66,000 people have now been infected in China from a virus that emerged in central Hubei province in December before spreading across the country and some two dozen countries.
Amid criticism over the handling of the crisis, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for tighter policing to protect social stability, while Beijing ordered people returning to the capital to self-quarantine for 14 days in the latest drastic measure aimed at containing the virus.
In France, an 80-year-old Chinese tourist died from the new coronavirus, French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said.
Only three other deaths have been recorded outside mainland China — in the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Japan.
The death toll in China, meanwhile, rose to 1,523 after 143 more people died in the country, most in Hubei.
Several countries have banned arrivals from China and major airlines have cut services with the country.
People have slowly started to return to work in the past two weeks, though many are doing their jobs from home and schools remain closed.
Beijing’s municipal government enacted a rule on Friday requiring all people coming to the capital to quarantine themselves for 14 days, warning that violators would be punished, according to official media. It was unclear how authorities would enforce the measure.
Chinese authorities have placed some 56 million people in Hubei and its capital Wuhan under quarantine, virtually sealing off the province from the rest of the country in an unprecedented effort to contain the virus.
A number of cities far from the epicentre have also imposed tough measures limiting the number of people who can leave their homes.
The government must “increase use of police force and strengthen the visible use of police,” to ensure stability during the crisis, Xi said in a Feb 3 speech published by state media on Saturday.
In another drastic preventive measure, China’s central bank said that used banknotes were being disinfected with ultraviolet light or high temperatures, and stored for up to 14 days before they are put back into circulation.
The scale of the epidemic ballooned this week after authorities in Hubei changed their criteria for counting cases, retroactively adding thousands of new patients to their tally.
Hubei added more than 14,000 cases in a single day this week after officials there started counting people clinically diagnosed through lung imaging, in addition to those with a positive lab test result.
Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2020