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Coronavirus Death Toll Set To Surpass SARS

The death toll for the new coronavirus has soared above 700, with an American the first confirmed non-Chinese victim, as the epidemic looked set to pass the death toll from SARS.

A 60-year old US citizen died on February 6 in Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus outbreak in the central Chinese province of Hubei, a US embassy spokesman said in Beijing.

A Japanese man in his 60s and in hospital with pneumonia in Wuhan also died after suffering symptoms consistent with the virus, Japan's foreign ministry said.

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But owing to difficulties in diagnosing the disease, the cause of death was given as viral pneumonia, the ministry said, citing Chinese medical authorities.

An official checks the temperature of a passenger in front of a train ticket gate at Beijing international airport amid the outbreak coronavirus. Image: AP

As of midday on Thursday, 17 foreigners were being treated for the disease in quarantine in China, according to the latest government figures.

The death toll in mainland China rose by 86 to 722 on Saturday and is poised to pass the 774 deaths recorded globally during the 2002-2003 pandemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), another coronavirus that jumped from animals to humans in China.

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Two deaths have been reported outside of mainland China -- in Hong Kong and the Philippines. Both victims were Chinese nationals. A Reuters count based on official reports show there are more than 330 cases outside China, in 27 countries and regions.

Most of the deaths in China have occurred in and around Wuhan. Hubei officials on Saturday reported 81 new deaths, 67 of those in Wuhan, a city in virtual lockdown. Across mainland China, the number of outstanding cases stood at 31,774.

People worldwide are taking precautions. Image: Getty

While China is bearing the brunt of the virus, anxiety levels are spiking across Asia, with Japan alarmed by the rising number of cases aboard a quarantined cruise ship, major foreign companies pulling out of an international air show in Singapore, and Thailand losing money as Chinese tourists stay home.

Another three people on the cruise liner off Japan tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total number of confirmed cases from the ship to 64, Japan's health ministry said.

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Thailand reported seven new cases, including three Thais and four Chinese, bringing the total reported in the country to 32, among the world's highest number of infections outside of China.

Chinese medical staff transfer patients to Jinyintan hospital. Image: Getty

Having already decided to suspend most flights from Monday between Taiwan to China, Taiwan's government said it would also suspend all direct passenger and freight shipping.

Hundreds of foreigners have been evacuated out of Wuhan over the past two weeks. A second evacuation plane to airlift Australians out of Wuhan was delayed after China did not give it clearance to land but is now back on schedule, Australian officials said on Saturday.