France confirmed Europe’s first known cases of coronavirus as the death toll in China climbed to more than 40 people.

As China’s most important festival got underway, authorities locked down 16 cities to prevent the illness from spreading further.

In Hong Kong, authorities have declared a coronavirus emergency and close primary and secondary schools for two more weeks.

Yesterday, France’s health minister, Agnès Buzyn, confirmed the first known cases of coronavirus in Europe.

There are three individuals with the virus — two in Paris and one in Bordeaux — and both are hospitalised and in isolation.

All three had recently been to China, France’s health ministry added.

Buzyn said there are likely other cases in Europe as she warned people who have travelled to China to avoid going to emergency rooms in the case that they have symptoms.

“It’s in emergency rooms in reality that people risk being in contact with others,” Buzyn told reporters.

People should instead call France’s health service so that emergency workers can help them and isolate them from other people.

More than a thousand cases have been confirmed in China, with 39 of the 41 deaths in Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak.

Elsewhere, Australia announced its first case on Saturday, a Chinese man in his 50s who last week returned from China.

Malaysia said three people tested positive Friday, all relatives of a father and son from Wuhan who had been diagnosed with the virus earlier in neighbouring Singapore.

The United States reported its second case, a Chicago woman in her 60s who was hospitalized in isolation after returning from China.

Meanwhile, the director-general of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the outbreak was not yet a global health emergency.

Ghebreyesus was speaking after WHO’s emergency committee met for a second day on Thursday to debate the epidemic.

Travel lockdown in China

In Hubei, bustling streets, shops, restaurants and other public spaces in the city were eerily empty as authorities put more than a dozen cities on lockdown.

The city of Wuhan, where the outbreak originated, announced it will build a designated hospital with space for 1,000 beds by February 3, in the style of a facility that Beijing constructed during the SARS epidemic in 2003.

Police, SWAT teams and paramilitary troops guarded the city’s train station, where metal barriers blocked the entrances.

“To my knowledge, trying to contain a city of 11 million people is new to science,” Gauden Galea, the World Health Organization’s representative in China, told the AP.

“It has not been tried before as a public health measure. We cannot at this stage say it will or it will not work.”

As a symbol of the concern that has gripped China, the authorities have announced the closure of sections of the famous Great Wall, as well as the Disneyland resort site in Shanghai.

Ghebreyesus said that the measure in Wuhan was “strong” but that China would “minimise the chances of this outbreak spreading internationally”.

“We commend their actions,” he added, stating that the WHO will get more information from their team on the ground.

Global health officials are preparing for it to spread

The virus’ incubation period is between two and 12 days, French Minister of Health Agnès Buzyn said at a press conference. Buzyn said the country stepped up efforts to inform the public, adding flyers in international airports on what to do if you suspect you have the virus.

But they do not plan to screen people for the fever in airports which she said was an ineffective method.

Health officials in Paris and in Lyon, however, will also be able to do a diagnostic test in health centres for the virus.

Experts at WHO warned the public not to underestimate the severity of the epidemic, stating that there were many sick people in the hospital in China right now.

The first case of coronavirus in Macao was confirmed on Wednesday, according to state broadcaster CCTV. The infected person, a 52-year-old woman, was a traveller from Wuhan.

Many of those who died were elderly or had other health risks, infectious disease epidemiologist Dr Maria D Van Kerkhove said at a WHO press conference.

“The original source of the outbreak remains unknown and therefore further cases and deaths are expected in Wuhan, and in China. It is possible that further cases will also be detected among travellers from Wuhan to other countries.”

According to the ECDC, China reported a cluster of pneumonia cases linked to a fish and live animal market in the city on December 31, 2019. Ten days later, China confirmed that the coronavirus was the cause.

Three airports in the European Union (EU) have direct flight connections to Wuhan, while there are indirect flight connections to other European hubs.

Chinese New Year celebrations at the end of January will cause an increased travel volume to and from China and within China, the EDC said, increasing the likelihood of arrival in the European Union of possible cases.

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