The death toll from the coronavirus outbreak soared to 722 in China on Saturday, including the first foreign victim, as Hong Kong imposed a mandatory quarantine on mainland arrivals to block the spread of an epidemic that has caused global panic.
With 86 more people dying in mainland China — the highest one-day jump so far — the toll was closing in on the 774 killed worldwide during the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic.
A 60-year-old US citizen diagnosed with the virus died on Thursday in Wuhan, the city at the epicentre of the health emergency, according to the US embassy, which did not provide more details about the person.
China’s foreign ministry said in a statement to AFP that the victim was a US citizen of Chinese origin.
A Japanese man in his 60s with a suspected coronavirus infection also died in hospital in Wuhan, the Japanese foreign ministry said, adding that it was “difficult” to confirm if he had the illness.
The only fatalities outside the mainland were a Chinese man in the Philippines and a 39-year-old man in Hong Kong.
Nearly 35,000 people have been infected by the new strain, which is believed to have emerged in a market selling wild animals in Wuhan last year before spreading across China.
The epidemic has prompted the government to lock down cities home to tens of millions of people, as anger mounts over its handling of the crisis, especially after a whistleblowing doctor fell victim to the virus.
Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, on a visit to quarantined Wuhan this week, instructed officials to take a “wartime” approach as they implement drastic measures that include combing the city for feverish residents.
With panic spiralling around the globe — more than 320 cases have emerged in nearly 30 other countries — researchers are racing to find treatments and a vaccine to fight the virus.
While the World Health Organization is set to give the disease a name within days, China’s National Health Commission said it would temporarily call it “novel coronavirus pneumonia,” or NCP.