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Deadliest day for coronavirus as China records 86 fatalities

Deadliest day for coronavirus as China records 86 fatalities
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American dies in Wuhan as toll touches 722

Beijing: An American became the first confirmed non-Chinese victim of the new coronavirus on Saturday while a Japanese man also died with symptoms consistent with the disease, as the epidemic looked set to pass the death toll from the SARS pandemic in rapid time.

The 60-year old US citizen diagnosed with coronavirus died at Jinyintan Hospital in China's Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus outbreak, on February 6, a US embassy spokesman in Beijing said.

"We offer our sincerest condolences to the family on their loss," the spokesman said. "Out of the respect for the family's privacy, we have no further comment."

The total death toll in mainland China rose by 86 to 722 on Saturday, according to Chinese authorities, and is poised to pass the 774 deaths recorded globally during the 2002-2003 pandemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), another coronavirus that jumped from animals to humans in China.

A Japanese man hospitalised with pneumonia in Wuhan also died after suffering flu-like symptoms consistent with the new coronavirus, Japan's foreign ministry said.

The man in his sixties was suspected of having been infected with the coronavirus but due to difficulties in diagnosing the disease the cause of death was given as viral pneumonia, the ministry said citing Chinese medical authorities.

As of noon on Thursday, 17 foreigners were being quarantined and treated for the disease in China, according to government figures. No updated figures were immediately available.

During the SARS outbreak between November 2002 and July 2003, the number of reported cases was 8,098, suggesting a far lower transmission rate than the latest coronavirus, but a higher mortality rate.

So far only two deaths have been reported outside mainland China - in Hong Kong and the Philippines - from about 332 cases in 27 countries and regions. Both of those victims were Chinese nationals.

"It is hard to say how lethal this novel coronavirus infection is," Professor Allen Cheng, an infectious diseases expert at Monash University in Melbourne, told Reuters.

Beijing's government has sealed off cities, cancelled flights and closed factories to contain the epidemic, with ripple effects for global markets and businesses dependent on the world's second-biggest economy.

Saturday marked the final day of the Lunar New Year celebrations, usually characterised by family gatherings, fireworks, riddle-guessing and the lighting of lanterns.

The United States has sent nearly 17.8 tons of medical supplies to China, including masks, gowns and respirators, a State Department official said. The WHO said out of $675 million it is seeking for its coronavirus response through April, it has received pledges of $110 million, $100 million of that from the Gates Foundation.

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