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New coronavirus appears less serious than SARS, says French doctor

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The lead doctor treating two Paris hospital patients for the new virus in China said Saturday that the illness appears less serious than comparable outbreaks of the past and that the chance of a European epidemic appears weak at this stage.

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French officials on Friday reported three confirmed cases of the newly identified coronavirus in France, the first ones in Europe. The third patient is at a hospital in Bordeaux. The head of Frances health department, Jerome Salomon, said Saturday evening that all three are doing “very well.”

Still, France remained concerned about its citizens in Wuhan, the now-locked down Chinese city where the outbreak began. Frances Foreign Ministry said Saturday that French and Chinese officials were studying “eventual options that would allow our nationals who wish to leave.”

The French consulate in Wuhan is in constant contact with citizens, the Foreign Ministry said, without saying how many of them are in the city.

Starting Sunday, medical teams will be at Frances airports, notably Paris Charles de Gaulle, to help passengers arriving from various Chinese cities with questions, concerns or medical needs, health chief Salomon said.

The virus so far has infected more than 1,200 people and killed at least 41. The vast majority of the infections and all the deaths have been in mainland China.

Dr. Yazdan Yazdanpaneh said the two patients at Paris Bichat-Claude Bernard Hospital are a couple from Wuhan, where the viral respiratory illness first was detected.

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

The two are staying in separate, specially equipped rooms and are doing well, physically and psychologically, Yazdanpaneh said. He could not speculate when they might be released from the hospital. Ways in which the virus can be transmitted remain unclear.

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

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