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European coronavirus epidemic unlikely, says French medic treating infected pair

By Associated Press Reporter

A doctor treating two Paris hospital patients for coronavirus has said the illness appears less serious than comparable outbreaks of the past and that the chances of a European epidemic are weak.

French officials on Friday reported three confirmed cases of the newly identified virus in the country, two in Paris and one in Bordeaux – the first in Europe.

The head of France’s health department, Jerome Salomon, said on Saturday evening that all three are doing “very well”.

Dr Yazdan Yazdanpaneh said the two patients at the Bichat-Claude Bernard Hospital in Paris he is caring for are a couple from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the viral respiratory illness was first detected.

The outbreak began in Wuhan, China, where most citizens have taken to wearing face masks to guard against transmission (AP)

The 31-year-old man and 30-year-old woman arrived in France on January 18 without symptoms, but one developed symptoms the next day and the other soon followed, the doctor said.

The couple are staying in separate, specially equipped rooms and are doing well, Dr Yazdanpaneh said.

He added that he could not speculate on when they might be released from hospital because ways in which the virus can be transmitted remain unclear.

Dr Yazdanpaneh, a leading French expert who heads Bichat’s infectious diseases unit, said cases imported from China are “not a surprise” and France had prepared, including by developing a test that provides rapid results for suspected cases.

On the other hand, he said, the chance of “an epidemic in France or in Europe is weak, extremely weak”.

The Chinese New Year is being marked in Paris, at the same time as a couple from Wuhan are treated in the city for coronavirus (Michel Euler/AP)

He added: “This illness is a lot less serious – and we don’t say this based on two patients, but talking to our international colleagues – than, for example, Sars.”

A 2002 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) killed hundreds of people.

The mortality rate for the viral illness identified in China last month is currently thought to be less than 5%, whereas it was double that for Sars, Dr Yazdanpaneh said.

He said the mers coronavirus in Saudi Arabia also appears more serious than the virus in China.

The man and woman receiving care in Paris were taken to Bichat on Friday morning and tests for coronavirus were known to be positive by the evening, he said.

The two rooms where they are being cared for are so-called negative pressure rooms that air enters but cannot escape to guard against transmission. Bichat has seven such rooms.