REUTERS/Flavio Lo Scalzo
Italy is scrambling to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus within its borders as cases of COVID-19 soar, making it the most infected country outside Asia.
As of Wednesday morning, 11 people in Italy had died from the disease.
The country has put almost a dozen towns under lockdown, canceled public events in major regions, and debated closing its borders with neighboring countries.
Other European countries are worried about how the virus might spread.
The two most infected regions are Lombardy and Veneto in the north of Italy, home to Milan and Venice. But cases are also being reported in southern Italy.
Italy is scrambling to counter a coronavirus outbreak after a sharp spike in cases and deaths made it the worst-hit country outside of Asia.
As of Wednesday morning, 11 people in Italy has died from the virus and at least 322 cases have been reported.
The country has put 11 towns on lockdown with the hope of containing the spread.
The two most infected regions are Lombardy and Veneto in the north of Italy, which contain the cities of Milan and Venice. But the virus has also spread further south, with regions like Tuscany and the island of Sicily also reporting cases on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Everyone who has died has been elderly and or had other health complications, Italian newspaper La Repubblica and the Associated Press reported.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced an emergency plan to quarantine towns late on Saturday, locking down the settlements by blocking most travel to and from them. He said the quarantine could last for weeks, the BBC reported.
Italian officials estimated on Monday that around 100,000 people across the regions are affected by these and travel restrictions. Schools, museums and theaters across the region have been closed in these areas.
Police and members of the armed forces have been given the authority to enforce the lockdown, the BBC reported.
MARCO SABADIN/AFP via Getty Images
On Tuesday, Conte warned against panic and defended the country’s response to the virus.
“Obviously I can’t say I’m not worried because I don’t want anyone to think we’re underestimating this emergency,” he said, according to The Associated Press.
“But we trust that with the measures we’ve implemented there will be a containing effect in the coming days.”
Empty carnivals, fashion shows, and soccer stadiums
The virus has also prompted the cancelation of the annual Venice carnival and the closing of some major landmarks.
The fashion house Giorgio Armani held its runway show at Milan Fashion Week in an empty theater as a precaution.
Major soccer games are being played in empty stadiums this week, including the clash between league leaders Juventus and Inter Milan on Sunday.
Attilio Fontana, the governor of the Lombardy region, was preparing an order Sunday to suspend public events, cancel school, and close public places like museums, a statement said.
Neighbouring countries, which have open borders with Italy, are worried
Italy’s north has open borders with countries including France, Austria, Switzerland, and Slovenia.
Italians or people who had recently visited Italy have tested positive for the coronavirus in Algeria, Austria, Croatia, Romania, Spain, and Switzerland, Reuters reported.
Matteo Salvini, the former deputy prime minister of the country and leader of the far-right National League party, called for the country’s borders to be closed, but Conte dismissed the idea at a Saturday press conference.
“I don’t think the conditions for such a move exist at this point,” Conte said, according to Politico.
The European Union also said on Monday that it was not considering any travel suspensions within the bloc’s border-free area, also known as the Schengen zone.
France warned anyone visiting the Lombardy and Veneto regions to wear face masks, regularly check their temperature, and avoid nonessential travel, the AP reported.
Officials in France and Austria are monitoring their borders for visitors from Italy who could be carrying the virus, according to the AP. Ireland has also advised its citizens not to travel to affected areas of Italy, and the UK told people to avoid “all but essential” travel to affected towns.
Romania’s health ministry on Sunday said that all Romanian citizens coming back from Lombardy and Veneto would be quarantined for 14 days, Politico reported.
Austria temporarily halted rail traffic across its border with Italy on Sunday, but later recommenced it.
Trains traveling out of the country from the north of Italy are can face delays and cancellations as train companies perform health checks, sanitize train carriages, and expect reduced demand for travel, La Repubblica reported.
The EU said on Monday that it is monitoring the spread of the coronavirus “around the clock” and announced 232 million euros ($252 million) to prevent a global outbreak.
The coronavirus, thought to have originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has now infected more than 70,000 people in China and has spread to at least 29 other countries, though most only have a handful of cases.
France recorded its first death from the coronavirus on Wednesday, though authorities say they do not yet know how or where the person contracted the disease.
The World Health Organization warned over the weekend that the window of opportunity to contain the virus was narrowing.
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