Italy’s health minister has said that neighboring countries will not close their borders, amid an outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 coronavirus. It comes as Rome confirmed 11 people dead in the epidemic, with hundreds infected.
“We agreed to keep borders open, closing borders would be a disproportionate and ineffective measure at this time,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza told reporters in Rome on Tuesday.
Four more people infected with the deadly virus died in northern Italy on Tuesday, bringing the death toll in the Mediterranean country to 11. Three of the dead were in their eighties and came from Lombardy, the worst affected region of Italy, Civil Protection agency chief Angelo Borrelli told reporters. The fourth was from the Veneto region.
Alongside the three fatalities, Italian authorities confirmed more than 90 new cases of the illness on Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases in Italy to 322.
Nearly a dozen towns have been quarantined across the northern Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto, and supplies across the north have run low. Public events have been cancelled, and panicked shoppers have stripped supermarket shelves of provisions.
Though Speranza insisted that Italy’s international borders will remain open, the disease has already begun to spread into mainland Europe. A hotel in Spain’s Canary Islands remains locked down after a guest and his wife were found to be infected, and mainland Spain reported its first case – an Italian woman living in Barcelona – on Tuesday.
Switzerland and Austria- which border Italy to the north – also confirmed their first cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. The Swiss patient, a 70-year-old man, had returned from an event in Milan two weeks ago. Across the Alps in Austria, a young Italian couple tested positive for the illness after entering Austria from Bergamo in Italy on Friday.
Two new cases were also reported in France. One patient had recently returned from Italy, another from China.
Originating in Wuhan, China, in November, the COVID-19 coronavirus has since spread to around 30 countries worldwide. More than 80,000 people have become infected, and more than 2,600 have died, the majority of them in China.
The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern,” and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on Monday that the virus has “pandemic potential.”
There is currently no effective treatment for the virus and a vaccine will take at least a year to develop, health officials say.
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