A seventh person died from coronavirus in Italy, according to media reports, while Europe plunges into a dramatic blockade.
More than 200 people have now tested positive for COVID-19 disease in Italy, the largest outbreak so far reported in Europe.
The dramatic wave of cases has sparked fears across the continent with Italy and neighboring countries climbing to prevent potential cross-border spread.
On Monday, police began patrolling checkpoints around quarantined cities in the north of the country as residents supplied themselves with food.
Croatia, Hungary and Ireland have advised against going to the affected areas, while Italians traveling abroad have suffered from the repression.
A bus from Milan was barricaded by police in the French city of Lyon for health checks and Alitalia passengers arriving in Mauritius were threatened with quarantine.
Officials have not yet identified the origin of the Italian epidemic, which has now spread to half a dozen regions.
Austria also temporarily blocked its rail traffic across its border with Italy.
“These rapid developments over the weekend have shown how quickly this situation can change,” European Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said in Brussels.
“We obviously have to take this situation very seriously, but we don’t have to give in to panic and, more importantly, disinformation.”
For Italians barricaded in dozens of small towns around the two main groups of the outbreak, Lombardy and Veneto, the prospects for the next two weeks seemed bleak, with the only business order getting enough food at home and testing.
“This was not a very exciting place to start,” said Andrea Casalis, a 27-year-old from Vo’Euganeo, a city of 3,500 inhabitants in the epicenter of the Veneto cluster.
“Since we can’t go to the bar, there’s not much left to do.”
Ms. Casalis was expected to start a new job in the food sector a few kilometers out of town, but this is now pending – evidence of the cascading economic effect that the epidemic is starting to unleash on the economy’s northern power plant. Italian.
ITALIANS STOP THROUGHOUT EUROPE
On Monday, the Irish, Hungarian and Croatian foreign ministries advised against traveling to northern Italy, while the Croatian ministry of education recommended the cancellation of all school trips to Italy scheduled for the following month.
Visitors from Italy, China or South Korea were monitored, as well as in Albania.
In France, the government has urged all those who have visited Lombardy or Veneto to wear masks if they go out, limit non-essential activities and measure the temperature twice a day. The French Ministry of Health has issued the same warning for anyone who has traveled to China, South Korea, Singapore or Macao. France had a total of 12 virus cases and one death.
In Lyon, the national health agency said officials were “assessing the situation” of Italians barricaded on a bus that originated in Milan and stopped in Turin.
The agency would not give details, nor would it say if anyone on the bus is suspected of having the virus.
Romanian Prime Minister Ludovic Orban said that anyone entering Romania from any region where the virus was reported will be quarantined for 14 days, but local media reported that arriving passengers were only asked to fill out a form .
MAURITUS AEREO ITALIAN BLOCKS
Fears extended to Mauritius, blocking an Alitalia plane that had landed overnight from Rome.
Alitalia said that 40 passengers from Lombardy and Veneto were told that they would only be allowed to get off if they entered the quarantine locally, although no one complained of the symptoms.
The Italian Foreign Ministry said it was working to provide “maximum assistance to Italians on board” and Alitalia said it was working to immediately bring back those refused waste to Italy.
Many Italians travel this week for mid-winter school holidays and Mauritius is a popular destination.
But the island nation has been more assertive than its African counterparts in an attempt to keep the virus out, announcing quarantines for passengers arriving from the Chinese city of Wuhan or showing symptoms.
To date, Africa has only one confirmed case, in Egypt.
ITALY CANCELS THE FAMOUS CARNIVAL
While the Italian authorities have canceled football matches, closed masses and schools, museums, theaters and even the famous Venice Carnival, they have also tried to calm fears by noting the low mortality rate of the virus and the much higher number of Italians who died of seasonal flu year.
At least five of the dead were all elderly and at least two had other serious ailments.
Speaking to the state-run RAI news, the virologist Ilaria Capua of the University of Florida observed that the high number of cases in Italy was due to the fact that Italy was “actively seeking them”.
More than 3,000 people have been tested for the virus, most of whom have had direct contact with infected people.
“The more likely we look, the more we will find,” said Professor Capua.
But he stressed that most cases would probably not even require a doctor to visit and that the Italian numbers were “very similar to what we will see in many other European countries”.
FASHION SHOWS CANCELED
Civil protection officials insisted that Italy was still a safe place to visit. The President of the Veneto Region, Luca Zaia, complained that he never imagined that he would ever have to cancel the Venice Carnival – another economic blow to the famous lagoon city that has already seen tourism plummet after the floods of last year .
Italy, however, was not taking any risks and effectively sealed a dozen northern cities.
On Monday, the masked police patrolled the checkpoints along the road leading to Codogno, south-east of Milan, where the first patient to test positive for the virus was hospitalized last week.
The inhabitants wore masks and gloves lined up at the Codogno supermarket to stock up on food, only to find that the market was still closed by order of the mayor.
Later, groups of four at a time were admitted to the oven in nearby Casalpusterlengo and one at a time to the pharmacy.
The Italian agricultural lobby Coldiretti has recorded a 5-10% increase in fresh fruit and is making purchases this weekend across the country, as Italians have been stocking fears of possible future quarantines even in regions that had not recorded any cases.
Hand sanitizers and masks were scarce. Fears have also spread to the Lombard capital, Milan, the Italian financial center, where the last two fashion shows of Milan’s fashion week scheduled for Monday have been canceled.
While most fashion houses organize shows as usual on Sunday, Giorgio Armani and Laura Biagiotti presented their collections behind closed doors, streamed live for the fashion public.
The EU Health Security Committee met on Monday to take stock of developments, particularly in Italy.
A joint team from the World Health Organization and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control has also been scheduled to visit Italy.