CODOGNO, Italy – Running to contain the rapidly growing number of new coronavirus infections in Italy, the largest outside Asia, Sunday’s authorities intensified measures to ban public meetings, including stopping famous events Venice Carnival, which have attracted tens of thousands of revelers to a region that is now in the heart of the blast.
“The ordinance is immediately operative and will come into force at midnight,” announced the Venetian regional governor Luca Zaia, whose area includes Venice, where thousands of people flocked to Piazza San Marco to join in the fun of the carnival. Carnival would run on Tuesday. Buses, trains and other forms of public transport – including boats in Venice – were disinfected, Zaia told reporters and museums that it was ordered to close Venice after Sunday, a major tourist attraction at any time of the year .
Authorities said three people in Venice tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, all in the late 1980s and hospitalized in critical condition. Zaia said that among the infected ones there was a nurse.
Almost all 133 known cases in Italy are grouped in the north, at least 25 in the Veneto.
The authorities expressed frustration at not having been able to trace the source of the virus spread in the north, which emerged last week when an Italian man in Codogno in the late 1930s became seriously ill.
“Health officials have not yet been able to locate patient zero,” Angelo Borrelli, head of the national civil protection agency, told reporters in Rome.
Initially, it was widely assumed that the man had been infected by an Italian friend with whom he had dined and who had recently returned from his job, based in Shanghai. When the friend tested negative for the virus, the attention turned to several Chinese who live in the city and who attend the same coffee visited by the affected man. But the Lombard governor Attilio Fontana told reporters that all the Chinese also tested negative.
So for now, Borrelli said, the strategy is focusing on closures and other restrictions to try to stem the spread in the country that had already taken such measures in the early stages of the global virus alarm, including banning direct flights from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau. Italy has also tested millions of airport passengers arriving from other places for any sign of fever.
In Lombardy, with 90 cases, so far the most affected region, schools and universities have been ordered to remain closed in the coming days and sporting events have been canceled. Lombardy’s ban on public events also extended to Masses in the churches of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.
But while public Masses were banned in some cities in the most affected areas, in the south, thousands came to the port city of Bari for a Mass visiting Pope Francis, who shook hands with the faithful during his public appearance. shaking the pope’s hand in Bari was the Italian president Sergio Mattarella, who had come to Bari for the event.
Museums, schools, universities and other public places will also be closed in Venice and the rest of the Veneto region. The arrest should last at least until March 1st.
In Turin, the main city in the northern region of Piedmont, at least three cases have been diagnosed. That region also announced the closure of all schools and universities.
The biggest leap in the case of confirmed COVID-19 was reported by the Lombard authorities, a populous region that includes the country’s financial capital, Milan. Almost all cases were in the countryside, mainly in Codogno and in nine nearby towns, where apparently only grocery stores and pharmacies were allowed to remain open while other businesses were ordered closed and people – at least in theory – did not have to enter or leave the cities.
Melissa Catanacci, who lives on one of the main streets of Codogno, said that while the entry points were open, others were closed.
Speaking on the phone from her home, she said she ventured out for a morning walk with her husband and two children, ages 10 and 13.
“About a quarter of an hour a car goes by” on the main road, he said. With the businesses closed, the usual Sunday “walk” – a pleasant walk through the local streets – didn’t last long, he said. “Nothing is open,” not even the city’s supermarket, despite permission to do so, he said. “After half an hour, one turns around and goes home.”
With the school remaining closed during the week, her children were visiting other friends’ homes and vice versa, she said, to break the boredom. For Catanacci, there was no reason to worry excessively. COVID-19 is “a new virus, it is still unknown to our body” and its antibodies, said Catanacci, adding: “it is similar to the flu.”
The other nice Sunday routines of the Italians – from football to going to church – were affected by the spread of the infection, almost entirely based in the north. Sporting events in the affected northern areas, including practices of local children’s sports teams at three Serie A football matches, were canceled following a long Saturday evening meeting by the Italian government to decide on measures containing infection.
The outbreak of infections in Italy has raised concerns elsewhere on the European continent.
The main Austrian security officer, Franz Lang, said the country could activate border controls in Italy within an hour. Normally both countries are part of the Schengen zone without visas and passports, but in specific situations individual countries can reactivate border controls. Lang said the border situation and possible reactions to the outbreak of the virus will be discussed on Monday during the meetings, according to local Austrian media.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Saturday evening that Italy does not suspend the rules of the Schengen zone.
In Switzerland, which, like Austria, borders Italy, there was a request for calm. Daniel Koch, head of the department for contagious diseases at the health office, told the public broadcaster SRF that the country had not been contacted about possible infected people traveling to Switzerland and that the current one did not need to be changed strategy.
“The news from Italy is worrying … but it’s too early to think that a wave is rolling towards us,” said Koch.
German travelers returning from northern Italy were asked to check German health warnings online about possible exposure to the virus. The German ministry of health said it had launched a conference call for all EU health authorities on the outbreak in northern Italy on Monday.
The first cases in Italy – that of a married Chinese couple on vacation in Rome – emerged in early February.
To date, two deaths have been reported among 133 cases – of elderly in the north.
Elsewhere in Europe, French health minister Olivier Veran said authorities were preparing for a possible outbreak of the new virus in France. In an interview published Sunday in the French newspaper Le Parisien, he said he was following the “very serious” situation closely, even in neighboring Italy.
France reported earlier this month the first death outside Asia of a virus-infected person, an 80-year-old Chinese tourist.