Egypt reports Africa’s first case of coronavirus, as death toll nears 1,400

Egyptian health ministry says foreign citizen infected with disease, put in isolation; nearly 64,000 people worldwide have fallen ill, with the vast majority in China

A security guard wearing a protective face mask checks the temperature of a cleaning woman amid coronavirus fears in Hong Kong, Feb. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
A security guard wearing a protective face mask checks the temperature of a cleaning woman amid coronavirus fears in Hong Kong, Feb. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

Egypt’s Health Ministry has confirmed the first case of the new virus in the country, the second Middle Eastern nation affected and the first on the African continent.

In a statement Friday, Health Ministry spokesman Khaled Mugahed said the person was a “foreigner” who is carrying the virus but not showing any serious symptoms.

Officials were able to confirm the case through a follow-up program the government implemented for travelers arriving from countries where the virus has spread. The ministry statement said the person was hospitalized and in isolation.

The statement did not specify the person’s nationality or what port of entry he or she arrived at in Egypt.

A viral outbreak that began in China has infected more than 64,000 people globally. The World Health Organization has named the illness COVID-19, referring to its origin late last year and the coronavirus that causes it.

The Egypt case would be the first in the African continent. Experts and African leaders have expressed concern that should the virus spread there, it might wreak havoc among less developed countries with fewer health resources.

The United Arab Emirates has reported eight cases of the disease, in what appear to be the only other infections in the Middle East.

The death toll from China’s virus epidemic neared 1,400 on Friday with six medical workers among the victims, underscoring the country’s struggle to contain a deepening health crisis.

Nearly 64,000 people are now recorded as having fallen ill from the virus in China, with officials revealing that 1,716 health workers had been infected as of Tuesday.

The scale of the epidemic swelled this week in China after authorities in central Hubei province, the epicenter of the contagion, changed their criteria for counting cases, adding thousands of new patients to their tally.

Medical staff in protective clothes are seen carrying a patient from an apartment suspected of having the virus in Wuhan, in Hubei province of China, January 30, 2020. (Hector Retamal/AFP)

The health emergency in China has caused fears of further global contagion, with more than two-dozen countries reporting hundreds of cases among them. Three people have died outside mainland China.

The United States has accused China of lacking transparency.

The majority of cases of infections among health workers was in Hubei’s capital, Wuhan, where many have lacked proper masks and gear to protect themselves in hospitals dealing with a deluge of patients.

Battling the epidemic is a “big test for the country’s governance system and governance ability,” said Chinese President Xi Jinping, who chaired a political meeting on government reforms, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

The outbreak has exposed “shortcomings,” Xi acknowledged, adding that China needed to reform its public health and epidemic prevention and control systems.

A flower shop owner delivers flowers with masks to customers on Valentine’s Day amid coronavirus fears in Hong Kong, Feb. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

Authorities have placed some 56 million people in Hubei under quarantine since late last month, in an unprecedented effort to stop the new coronavirus from spreading.

Some cities in Hubei tightened restrictions this week, sealing off neighborhoods in what they liken to “war-time” measures.

Several countries have banned arrivals from China, while major airlines have halted flights to and from the country.

The US State Department said it was “deeply concerned” about the vulnerability of China’s northern neighbor, North Korea, and offered to support aid work in the country.

Japan on Thursday said it would not allow Israeli passengers to leave a cruise ship quarantined off its coast after over two hundred passengers were found to be infected with the virus. The Foreign Ministry on Wednesday asked Japan to let Israeli citizens off of the ship.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz on Thursday expressed understanding of Tokyo’s position.

“Japan’s desire to ensure the prevention of [the spread of] infection is shared by Israel,” Katz told Army Radio in an interview.

It is believed there are 15 Israelis on board the Diamond Princess. The passengers have taken to Israeli media in recent days to plead with the government to secure their release from the liner.

The ship is expected to stay in quarantine at least until February 19 — 14 days after the isolation period began.

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