Hong Kong reports first coronavirus death

Hong Kong reports first coronavirus death

Health warning signs are seen outside Queen Elizabeth Hospital following the outbreak of a new coro
Health warning signs are seen outside a hospital in Hong Kong following the outbreak of a new coronavirus, Feb 3, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

HONG KONG: A man has died in Hong Kong from the novel coronavirus, the city's first fatality from the deadly virus and the second outside mainland China.

Medical authorities confirmed a 39-year-old man who was being treated for the virus died on Tuesday morning (Feb 4).

The man was a resident of Hong Kong who had travelled last month to Wuhan, the Chinese city at the centre of the outbreak, returning home on Jan 23 via a high-speed rail link.

Officials said the man also had diabetes, but had been stable until his condition suddenly deteriorated.

They said the precise cause of death was unclear and the case will be handed over to the coroner.

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So far the only other reported fatality outside of the Chinese mainland has been in the Philippines.

Hong Kong now has 17 confirmed cases, most of whom were infected in mainland China.

But four cases are suspected to be local transmissions, including two people confirmed on Tuesday afternoon who have no history of recent travel to the mainland.

READ: Malaysia confirms first citizen case of novel coronavirus

READ: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announces suspension of 10 border crossings with mainland China

Passengers wear face masks as they arrive to the Lo Wu MTR station, before the closing of the Lo Wu
Passengers wear face masks as they arrive to the Lo Wu MTR station, before the closing of the Lo Wu border following the coronavirus outbreak, Hong Kong, China, Feb 3, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

"NEXT 14 DAYS ARE CRITICAL"

Chuang Shuk-kwan, from 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.

READ: China admits 'shortcomings' in virus response

READ: China to allow in US health experts as coronavirus shows no sign of slowing

The death came a day after Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced the closure of all but two land border crossings to the Chinese mainland in a bid to halt the spread of the virus.

Lam has rejected calls to shut the entire border, saying such a move would be "inappropriate and impractical" as well as "discriminatory".

There has been growing public anger over the government's response to the outbreak, with calls to seal the border entirely - including barring mainlanders from flying into the international airport.

There is also an acute shortage of masks, while a strike by some medical workers entered its second day on Tuesday with hospital authorities saying 4,400 staff members were absent - including around 360 doctors and 2,500 nurses.

The authorities said the strike was having a "serious impact".

Medical workers hold a strike near Queen Elizabeth Hospital as they demand Hong Kong close its bord
Medical workers hold a strike near Queen Elizabeth Hospital as they demand Hong Kong close its border with China to reduce the coronavirus spreading, in Hong Kong, China Feb 3, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Tyrone Siu)

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.

Distrust - and at times open hostility - towards mainlanders has been worsened by years of political unrest as Hong Kongers chafe under Beijing's rule, and protest for greater democratic freedoms.

READ: Fearing novel coronavirus, Hong Kong residents stock up on food, essentials

FAQ: Wuhan coronavirus and its outbreak

The World Health Organization has declared the flu-like virus a global emergency, although experts say much is still unknown about the pathogen, including its mortality rate and transmission pathways.

The number of confirmed deaths from China's coronavirus outbreak soared past 400 on Tuesday, after authorities in Hubei province reported 64 new fatalities. There was also a sharp increase in confirmed infections with 3,235 new cases, putting the national total at more than 20,400. 

The death toll in mainland China now surpasses the number of fatalities from its SARS crisis two decades ago. 

More than 20 other countries have reported cases of infections.

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Source: Agencies/zl

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