An elderly Chinese tourist in France has died after contracting the COVID-19 coronavirus, becoming the first fatality outside of the Asia-Pacific region in an epidemic that has killed more than 1,500 people in mainland China.


The 80-year-old man, who was from the central Hubei province where the virus originated late last year, arrived in France on January 16, French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn told reporters on Saturday.  The European Union (EU) held an emergency meeting to discuss how to cope with the coronavirus epidemic and prevent an outbreak and spread in Europe.


In the meeting on Thursday, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides warned ministers at the event in Brussels that “viruses know no borders”, reports Efe news.


“This outbreak highlights the urgent need for close cooperation and coordination across Europe and beyond,” she added.


She said coordination within the EU was vital in fighting the virus, including sharing information and cooperation between countries.“We are determined to ensure an effective, coherent EU-level response,” she said, adding: “We need to be united in our response – coherent and coordinated with each other.”


Kyriakides said there needs to be uniform border controls at airports for flights coming from China, where 99 per cent of cases have been reported.


There have been 50 confirmed coronavirus cases in 11 European countries, with Germany, France and the UK particularly affected.


Brussels has ruled out imposing borders within the Schengen area, with Kyriakides saying: “Freedom of movement in the EU needs to be safeguarded.”


EU representatives have been working to “establish an expert information exchange protocol” and held its first video conference with Chinese experts on Wednesday, she added.


Health ministers from the EU’s 27 member countries shared updates on the situation in their respective nations and the steps being taken to combat the outbreak.


As of Friday, the overall death toll in China due to the deadly coronavirus increased to 1,380, with 63,851 confirmed cases, authorities said.


Outside China, there has been three deaths — Hong Kong, the Philippines and Japan, with 447 cases in 24 countries, according to Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s health emergencies programme.