France reported its first death from the new SARS-like coronavirus on Tuesday and Saudi Arabia, where the virus first emerged last year, said there were five new cases.
French Health Minister Marisol Touraine sent her condolences to the family of the 65-year-old man who died in hospital in the northern city of Lille after visiting Dubai, bringing the worldwide death toll to 23.
The man was diagnosed with the virus strain, known as nCoV, on May 8, after being admitted to hospital on April 23, shortly after his return from Dubai, with what seemed at first to be a severe stomach bug and breathing problems.
A second man, aged 50, is critically ill with the virus in the same hospital. Health officials have screened dozens of people who had come into contact with the two carriers.
The Saudi Health Ministry said there were five new cases – all people aged between 73 and 85 who were already suffering chronic illnesses. They were all in the Eastern Region where most cases recorded in the kingdom have been found.
WHO experts visiting Saudi Arabia to consult with the authorities on the outbreak have said it seemed likely the new virus could be passed between humans, but only after prolonged, close contact.
The novel virus, which can cause coughing, fever and pneumonia, has spread from the Gulf to France, Britain and Germany. It is from the same viral family that triggered the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that swept the world in late 2003 and killed 775 people.