The Italian government has placed a dozen towns in emergency quarantine and closed schools and universities across northern Italy after the number of reported coronavirus infections topped 100 on Sunday, in the largest outbreak in Europe.
Italian authorities said on Sunday that the total infection count had reached 132; 89 of the cases are located in Lombardy where two elderly people have died in the outbreak.
Other cases include 24 in Veneto, two in Emilia-Romagna and one reported case each in Lazio and Piedmont. Ansa, the Italian newswire, reported on Sunday that there were suspected but unconfirmed cases in Milan and the region of Umbria.
People have been barred from leaving the affected towns in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto unless they have special permission, under measures announced by Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte on Saturday; public gatherings and events were suspended.
Schools and universities across Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna will be closed this week and the final two days of Venice’s annual carnival on Monday and Tuesday have been cancelled because of the outbreak, Italian officials said on Sunday.
Several Serie A football fixtures, including Inter Milan’s match against Sampdoria, were suspended, and some large Italian companies, including the bank UniCredit, have instructed employees in the affected towns to not come into work.
Among the towns in Lombardy which are affected are Codogno, Castiglione d’Adda and Casalpusterlengo. Residents in all three towns, which lie to the south-east of Milan, were told to stay indoors on Friday after the first coronavirus cases were diagnosed in the area.
The special measures have been enforced across an area with a population of about 50,000 people. Residents have been instructed by the Italian government to stay in their homes and the country’s civil protection agency has passed an emergency decree. Those who break the instruction risk fines or imprisonment.
Fashion designer Armani said it would hold an empty show in Milan on Sunday, the final day of the city’s fashion week; the event will instead be livestreamed online. MIDO, the world’s largest eyewear trade fair, which is due to take place in Milan at the end of February, said it was suspending the event until June as a result of the outbreak.
Mr Conte said Italy had adopted “rigorous and meticulous controls” after two Italian citizens in their late seventies died from the infection.
Stella Kyriakides, EU health commissioner, said that Brussels was “following the situation in Italy very closely”.
The European Commission, the World Health Organization and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control “stand ready to support the Italian authorities”, she said.
“We are working closely with member states to ensure that EU health systems are equipped and ready, including the launch of a joint procurement to support the access to the personal protective equipment that may be needed,” she added.
Luca Zaia, regional governor of Veneto, said the rapid spread of the virus showed that local-to-local transmission had occurred and it would no longer be sufficient to try to isolate travellers from China to stem the outbreak.
Giulio Gallera, a Lombardy councillor for welfare, tried to calm worried locals.
“The message we want to give is that in the area of the outbreak, the measures taken are efficient and positive,” he told reporters. “The aim is to contain the situation as much as possible.”
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Additional reporting by Reuters and Michael Peel in Brussels