Hong Kong has reported its first coronavirus death

Image: Reuters/Tyrone Siu
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A 39-year-old man who was a Hong Kong resident died today (Feb. 4) from the novel coronavirus, according to local health authorities, marking the city’s first fatality from the outbreak.

The man, who had a pre-existing health condition, died from heart failure, according to local media. He was identified last Friday as the city’s 13th confirmed case of the coronavirus, and had travelled to Wuhan earlier last month via high-speed train. He did not visit any health care facilities or wet markets, nor had any exposure to wild animals during the incubation period, according to health officials. He returned to Hong Kong on Jan. 23, developed muscle aches on Jan. 29, and began running a fever on Jan. 31, authorities said.

The man’s 72-year-old mother has also been confirmed to have contracted the coronavirus, and was hospitalized on Sunday (Feb. 2). Other family members are under quarantine.

The man is the second recorded coronavirus fatality outside mainland China, following the death of a Chinese man in the Philippines yesterday (Feb. 3).  In that case, the man had flown in from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak in central Hubei Province.

There are currently 20, 438 confirmed infections in mainland China, and a death toll of 425, according to the latest figures from Chinese authorities. Excluding today’s death, Hong Kong currently has 14 confirmed infected cases.

Hong Kong’s first fatality comes hours after further border restrictions took effect at midnight yesterday, with the government closing additional border entry points and leaving only two land crossings and the airport open. Many have called for a complete border closure with mainland China amid fears of a community outbreak in the city, and thousands of medical workers are currently on strike to pressure the government to shut the border. Immigration figures from the weekend showed 2,250 people arrived from the mainland via the more popular land crossing on a single day, while 4,650 arrived via the airport.

Health experts have warned that the first two weeks of this month could be a critical period for Hong Kong as people return from mainland China after the Lunar New Year holiday, and that the city could see a spike in the number of infections.