DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) - A German couple who have contracted the coronavirus had taken part in local carnival celebrations and also visited the Netherlands in the 10 days before they were diagnosed, officials said on Wednesday.
Authorities in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia are now racing to stop the coronavirus spreading and are tracking down people the couple have been in contact with in their home district of Heinsberg.
"It's a rather Sisyphean task," district administrator Stephan Pusch said. "We're assuming that they were out with the symptoms for ten days."
The man, a 47-year-old entrepreneur, is now seriously ill and requires mechanical ventilation. His wife, a kindergarten teacher aged 46, has pneumonia and fever but her case is not as serious as her husband's, physician Dieter Haeussinger told a news conference in Duesseldorf on Wednesday.
It is not known how the couple contracted the virus, which is quickly spreading around the world after breaking out in the Chinese metropolis of Wuhan late last year.
The couple attended carnival celebrations in the village of Langbroich and also went on a short trip to the Netherlands, authorities said.
Kindergartens and schools in the area are shut until Monday and citizens have been asked to refrain from large gatherings, Pusch said. Authorities also have closed two doctors' offices that the man had visited.
State health minister Karl-Josef Laumann said the patients' contacts at two hospitals in the town of Erkelenz and the city of Cologne had been identified and would stop working for now.
The couple is being treated at the university hospital of Duesseldorf, the capital of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Germany has 19 confirmed coronavirus cases so far, 14 of which are related to an infection cluster at an automobile parts supplier in the Munich area. Two more patients were tested positive after returning from Wuhan.
Additionally, a 25-year-old man was tested positive for the virus on Tuesday in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg after returning from a trip to the Italian city of Milan. Regional broadcaster SWR reported on Wednesday that there were two more infections related to the man's case.
If confirmed, this would bring the number of known German cases to 21.
(Reporting by Matthias Inverardi in Duesseldorf; additional reporting by Holger Hansen in Berlin; writing by Thomas Seythal; Editing by Angus MacSwan)