Coronavirus hits France: What you need to know

By: The local





France on Friday became the first European country to confirm cases of coronavirus, the deadly respiratory illness that first broke out in China and is rapidly spreading. Here’s what you need to know.

What’s happening in France?

French health minister Agnès Buzyn on Friday said that three cases of coronavirus have been confirmed – one in Bordeaux and two in Paris.

France is the first country in Europe to report cases of the illness, which began in China and spread widely throughout Asia before reaching the USA and Australia.

However the minister added that she believes France could have the first confirmed European cases simply because the country has developed a rapid testing system for the virus.

She added that she also expected more cases in the coming days.

French Health and Solidarity Minister Agnes Buzyn (Photo by Alain JOCARD / AFP)

Who are the three confirmed cases? 

All three are people who have recently travelled from China.

The man being treated in Bordeaux is a 48-year-old French citizen of Chinese origin who works in the wine business, and who had visited Wuhan, the centre of the epidemic, as part of a business trip.  He returned to France on Wednesday and went to a clinic complaining of flu-like symptoms the next day. 

The two patients being treated in Paris are a couple, aged 30 and 31, who are both Chinese citizens from Wuhan, the centre of the epidemic. The were asymptomatic when they arrived in Paris on January 18. 

What is happening with the three confirmed cases?

All three are being treated in isolation wards in hospital. The French citizen is being treated at the Pellegrin Hospital in Bordeaux, while the Chinese couple are being treated at the virology department of Paris’s Bichat hospital. 

French authorities are now in the process of tracing and testing anyone they had contact with between their return from China and their admission to hospital.

Passengers who shared a flight with the 48-year-old from Paris to Bordeaux are being contacted, as is anyone the Chinese couple have met in their first few days in Paris. 

“You have to treat an epidemic as you treat a fire, quickly to locate the source” and “contain it as quickly as possible,” Buzyn added.

What is coronavirus?

It’s a respiratory illness and actually of the same family as the common cold.

The previously unknown virus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

The outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan – which is an international transport hub – began at a fish market in late December and since then 27 people have died, including a doctor who was treating the victims.

What are the symptoms?

The initial symptoms are not dissimilar to the common cold – as the virus belongs to the same family – which is unfortunately probably going to lead to a certain amount of panic as colds in January are not exactly unusual.

The symptoms include cough, headache, fatigue, fever, aching and difficulty breathing.

It is primarily spread through airborne contact or contact with contaminated objects.

Its incubation period is two to 14 days, with an average of seven days.





How can I protect myself?

As anyone who has ever tried to avoid getting a cold in winter will know, this is not always easy.

Health authorities recommend practising good hygiene, so washing your hands and using sanitiser gel regularly (particularly if you have been toughing surfaces that many other people will have touched such as on the Metro), using disposable tissues and throwing them away and covering your mouth with your elbow when you cough.

Wearing a disposable surgical face mask – available at most pharmacies – can also help protect you again airborne droplets carrying the virus. 

What should I do if I think I have it?

If you think you have the illness do not go to hospital or your doctor’s surgery. French health authorities are worried about potentially infected people turning up at hospitals and passing on the virus.

Instead call an ambulance and tell the operator it is a suspected case of coronavirus. The ambulance number in France is 15.

French vocab

Fièvre – fever

Maux de tête – headache

Courbatures – aches

Toux – cough

Difficultés respiratoires – breathing difficulties

Un rhume – a cold

La grippe – the flu

Coronavirus – coronavirus

SAMU – the French ambulance service, or service d’aide médicale urgente, to give them their full name

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