'Explosion of cases': Three dead amid 'rapid' coronavirus spike in Europe

·News Reporter
·4-min read

Three deaths and a giant spike in coronavirus cases are causing mass panic across Italy with the prime minister admitting they have been caught off-guard with the outbreak.

At least 152 people have contracted the virus, health officials announced, with the number expected to rise considerably in the coming days.

"I was surprised by this explosion of cases," Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told state broadcaster RAI.

The death of the woman in a hospital in the small city of Crema in Lombardy, the northern region that is the centre of Italy's coronavirus scare, followed that of a 77-year-old woman on Saturday and a 78-year-old man on Friday, the first victim of coronavirus in Europe.

Two women wear masks as they walk in a street in Codogno, near Lodi, Northern Italy, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. A dozen towns in northern Italy are on effective lockdown after the new virus linked to China claimed a first fatality in Italy and sickened an increasing number of people. The secondary contagions have prompted local authorities in towns of Lombardy and Veneto to order schools, businesses, and restaurants closed, and to cancel sporting events and Masses. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Two women wear masks as they walk in a street in Codogno. Source: AP
A man wearing a mask stands in front of the San Biagio church in Codogno, near Lodi, Northern Italy, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. A dozen towns in northern Italy are on effective lockdown after the new virus linked to China claimed a first fatality in Italy and sickened an increasing number of people. The secondary contagions have prompted local authorities in towns of Lombardy and Veneto to order schools, businesses, and restaurants closed, and to cancel sporting events and Masses. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
A man wearing a mask stands in front of the San Biagio church in Codogno amid a lockdown of towns in Italy's north. Source: AP

Amid a number of restrictive measures implemented on communities, Conte urged people "not to give in to panic and follow the advice of health authorities".

"We should not be afraid because of the rising numbers," he told public radio station Rai Uno, adding in another interview that cases were being discovered "because we are carrying out thousands of checks".

Eleven towns, 10 in Lombardy and one in neighbouring Veneto, are under lockdown, with some 50,000 residents prohibited from leaving.

The outbreak is by far the biggest outside of Asia.

Clients and a cashier wear sanitary masks in a supermarket in Casalpusterlengo, Italy, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. A dozen Italian towns saw daily life disrupted after the deaths of two people infected with the virus from China and a pair of case clusters without direct links to the outbreak abroad. A rapid spike in infections prompted authorities in the northern Lombardy and Veneto regions to close schools, businesses and restaurants and to cancel sporting events and Masses. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Shoppers and supermarket employees wear masks amid an outbreak of coronavirus. Source: AP

Outbreak sparks panic buying

Regional authorities have ordered gathering spots, such as bars, restaurants and clubs to close.

Schools throughout the affected areas are to remain closed next week.

Later Sunday, an Austrian train from Venice bound for Munich was stopped on the Italian side of the Brenner Pass border crossing with Austria because of two people with fever symptoms on board, the Austrian interior ministry said.

Austria since halted all train traffic to and from Italy, but the ban has since been lifted Sky News reports.

The spread of the virus has disrupted high-profile events including Milan fashion week and the Venice Carnival while Serie A football matches were postponed. Operas have also had to be cancelled at Milan's famed La Scala.

Social media is awash with images of panicked shoppers clearing supermarket shelves as residents fear the outbreak will only worsen.

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In Milan, residents rushed to stock up on essentials, while some parents decided to take their children out of the city.

"Today is madness. It feels like we're in Baghdad. We can't restock shelves quick enough," a shop assistant in Milan said.

Images from Venice, the capital of Veneto, show dozens of tourists taking images wearing surgical masks and some even donning protective clothing.

Most of the cases in Italy are in Lombardy, a prosperous region in the country's north, and can be traced back to a 38-year-old man whom authorities have called "patient one."

The man, who is intensive care, dined last month with a friend who had visited China in January. The friend exhibited flu-like symptoms at the time of the dinner, but has since tested negative for the virus, media reports said.

Tourists wear protective face masks on a gondola in Venice because of an outbreak of coronavirus in northern Italy. REUTERS/Manuel Silvestri
Tourists wear protective face masks on a gondola in Venice. Source: Reuters
Carnival revellers wear protective face masks at Venice Carnival, where the last two days of the event as well as Sunday night's festivities, have been cancelled because of an outbreak of coronavirus in northern Italy. REUTERS/Manuel Silvestri
Carnival revellers wear protective face masks at Venice Carnival. The last two days of the event were cancelled. Source: Reuters

Rapid increase a ‘concern’

Health officials are still puzzled over certain cases with no obvious links with infected persons.

"The rapid increase in reported cases in Italy over the past two days is of concern," the World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic said on Sunday.

"What is also worrying is that not all reported cases seem to have clear epidemiological links, such as travel history to China or contact with a confirmed case," he added.

Experts from WHO and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control plan to arrive in Italy on Tuesday, he said.

Conte's government moved Saturday to set up checkpoints in the region affected to ensure that nobody leaves the contaminated zone without special permission to that effect.

Sunday saw police checking all vehicles travelling in and out of the area along Codogno's main highway.

One police officer told AFP that "we're going to quickly enforce a total blockade" and that those who had made it into the area in recent days would be unable to leave.

Conte said on Saturday that residents could face weeks of lockdown, enough time for any potential infection to incubate.

With AAP and AFP

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