Italy imposes lockdown in coronavirus hotspots
Published : Sunday, 23 February, 2020 at 9:44 AM Count : 269
Italy has introduced "extraordinary measures" to tackle the spread of the biggest outbreak of the new coronavirus in Europe.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced the emergency plan late on Saturday as the number of cases rose to 79.
The measures were imposed after two Italian citizens were confirmed to have died from the virus.
A dozen towns in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto have been effectively quarantined under the plan.
Around 50,000 people from towns in two northern regions have been asked to stay at home by authorities.
Mr Conte said it would now be forbidden to enter or leave the outbreak areas, unless special permission was granted.
All school and sports activities have been suspended in those areas, including several Serie A football matches due to take place on Sunday.
Police, and if necessary the armed forces, will have the authority to ensure the regulations are enforced.
Italian authorities fear the virus has gone beyond the isolated clusters of cases in Lombardy and Veneto, making it difficult to contain.
"The contagiousness of this virus is very strong and pretty virulent," Lombardy's health chief Giulio Gallera said.
The new coronavirus originated in the Chinese province of Hubei last year, but has spread to 26 countries, where more than 1,400 cases and 11 deaths have been confirmed.
Chinese health authorities reported a decrease in the rate of deaths and new cases of the coronavirus on Saturday. Some 76 392 cases including 2,348 deaths have been confirmed in China.
But outside China, cases with no clear link to that country or other confirmed cases continue to rise, prompting concern from the World Health Organization (WHO).
The head of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the greatest concern now was countries with weaker health systems, particularly in Africa.
South Korea has reported the largest number of confirmed infections after China and the outbreak on the Diamond Princess cruise ship off the coast of Japan, which has seen more than 600 cases.
In other developments:
○ Thirty-two British and other European cruise ship passengers are in quarantine in north-west England after arriving back from Japan
○ In South Korea, a fourth person has died and the number of confirmed cases has jumped to more than 550, an increase of more than 100 on the previous day. Most cases are linked to a hospital and a religious group near the south-eastern city of Daegu
○ Israel refused to allow some 200 non-Israelis to disembark from a plane which had arrived from South Korea, sending them back to Seoul; the 12 Israelis on board were quarantined
○ Iran reported its fifth death from the disease, and ordered the closure of schools, universities and cultural centres in 14 provincesThe new virus, which originated last year in Hubei province in China, causes a respiratory disease called Covid-19.
Fever, fatigue and a dry cough are the most common symptoms for patients.
The proportion of people dying from the disease appears to be low, with most only developing mild symptoms and making a full recovery.