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Coronavirus reaches Europe as France confirms three cases

French health minister Agnes Buzyn said she expects more cases.

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The three people had travelled to China, France’s health minister said (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

The three people had travelled to China, France’s health minister said (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

The three people had travelled to China, France’s health minister said (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

France has announced three cases of coronavirus, the deadly new virus from China.

The three confirmed cases, Europe’s first, all involved people who had travelled to China, where hundreds of people have fallen ill and more than two dozen have died.

The first two French cases were announced by health minister Agnes Buzyn at a hastily called news conference on Friday night.

The third was announced in a statement from her ministry about three hours later.

All three were taken to hospital, in isolation — two in Paris, the other in the south-western city of Bordeaux. The third person is a parent of one of the first two people diagnosed, the ministry said.

In part because of Europe’s open borders, the minister said she expects more cases.

“We see how difficult it is in today’s world to close the frontiers. In reality, it’s not possible,” she said.

“We will probably have other cases.”

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Passengers wear masks to prevent an outbreak of a new coronavirus in a train station, in Hong Kong (Kin Cheung/AP)

Passengers wear masks to prevent an outbreak of a new coronavirus in a train station, in Hong Kong (Kin Cheung/AP)

AP/PA Images

Passengers wear masks to prevent an outbreak of a new coronavirus in a train station, in Hong Kong (Kin Cheung/AP)

Ms Buzyn said speed in diagnosing new cases will be essential in slowing the spread of the virus.

She said the likely reason that France has the first European cases is that it quickly developed a test allowing medics to rapidly diagnose those ill with the virus.

“You have to treat an epidemic as you would a fire, that’s to say find the source very quickly,” she said.

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The virus has killed at least 26 people in China (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

The virus has killed at least 26 people in China (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

AP/PA Images

The virus has killed at least 26 people in China (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

One of the people taken to hospital, a 48-year-old man, passed through Wuhan, the epicentre in China for the virus, before travelling to France on Wednesday, the minister said.

He has been in hospital in Bordeaux since Thursday. She said he is a French national who travelled to China for work and who lives in the Bordeaux area.

The health ministry did not give the age, nationalities or other personal details about the other two people taken to hospital in Paris, other than saying that they travelled to China.

The first of the Paris cases was confirmed just minutes before Ms Buzyn announced it at her news conference. The other was still being investigated and was only confirmed later on Friday night.

The ministry said efforts are under way to find all those who came in close contact with the three patients. They will be told to limit their contacts with anyone else, to try to contain the spread of the outbreak.

We will do everything possible to confine this epidemicHealth minister Agnes Buzyn

The Bordeaux patient was in contact with about 10 people before he was taken into care, the minister said.

“It’s important to control the fire as quickly as possible. Hence the need to piece together patient histories and to find people who were in contact with the patient,” she said.

“We will do everything possible to confine this epidemic,” she pledged.

The French minister promised “total transparency” as the country battles the outbreak and said her ministry would give daily news updates “so there is no false information on social networks”.

She said informing the public is “the most effective barrier” against the spread of the virus, more so than taking people’s temperatures as they arrive at airports and other entry points to test if they have a fever.

“People only need to take aspirin 15 minutes before landing to no longer have a fever,” she said.

The number of confirmed cases around the world has climbed sharply to more than 850, the bulk of them in China. There have been at least 26 deaths, all of them in China.

The vast majority of cases have been in and around Wuhan or involved people who visited the city or had personal connections to those infected.

Fewer than two dozen cases in all have been confirmed outside mainland China, in Hong Kong, Macao, the US, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam.

The US reported its second case, involving a Chicago woman in her 60s who was taken to hospital after returning from China. She was reported to be doing well.

PA