A United States citizen died from the coronavirus in Wuhan, China, American officials said on Saturday. It was the first known American death from the illness, and was likely to add to diplomatic friction over Beijing’s response to the epidemic.
The death is also certain to raise questions over whether the Trump administration and the State Department in particular have taken sufficient action to ensure the safety of Americans in China and to aid in the evacuation of those who want to leave.
Few details about the American, who died on Thursday, were immediately available. According to the United States Embassy in Beijing, the person was 60 years old and died at Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan, the inland metropolis at the center of the epidemic.
In a statement, the State Department took a defensive tone, saying that since Jan. 29, it had evacuated about 1,050 people, most of them Americans, on five charter flights out of Wuhan. The agency said it had “no higher priority than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad,” but there are no current plans to conduct additional evacuation flights, even as some Americans in other parts of China have been asking for the United States government to evacuate them.
Relations between Washington and Beijing have been tense for years over issues including trade, technology and human rights. While Chinese officials have touted the importance of international cooperation to combat the virus, doubts have arisen in recent days about China’s willingness to accept a helping hand — particularly from the United States.
The virus has killed at least 700 people in China, sickened thousands more and spread across the globe. Within China, public discontent about the government’s response to the crisis reached an extraordinary peak on Friday after the death of Dr. Li Wenliang, who had warned his colleagues early on about the new virus but was reprimanded for illegally spreading rumors. After Dr. Li’s death, grieving internet users posted messages expressing anger over his treatment and demanding freedom of speech — unheard-of in China’s authoritarian political system.
American officials have quietly voiced concerns about China’s response to the epidemic. The confirmation on Friday that repeated offers of help to China had been ignored only deepened the sense of worry.