An 80-year-old Chinese tourist has died from the new coronavirus in France, the first death confirmed outside of Asia, French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said on Saturday.

Buzyn said she had been told about the death of the patient - in hospital in Paris since late January - late on Friday, adding that his condition "had deteriorated rapidly" after several critical days.

The virus originated late last year in China, where it has since infected more than 66,000 people and killed more than 1,500.

Three deaths from the virus have so far been recorded outside mainland China -- in the Philippines, Hong Kong and Japan.

The scale of the epidemic ballooned this week after officials in the Chinese province of Hubei -- the epicentre of the outbreak -- changed their criteria for counting cases, adding thousands of new patients to the tally.

Some 56 million people in Hubei and its capital Wuhan are now living under quarantine, virtually sealed off from the rest of the country in an effort to contain the virus.

Away from China, almost 600 cases have been confirmed -- roughly 35 of which have been reported in the European Union.

Six people with the virus remain in hospital in France, Buzyn said, adding that none were seriously ill.