Italy authorities urge calm as coronavirus deaths mount

A man stands outside the San Siro stadium after the Inter Milan v Sampdoria Serie A match was cancelled due to an outbreak of the coronavirus in Lombardy and Veneto, in Milan, Italy, February 23, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 24 February 2020

Italy authorities urge calm as coronavirus deaths mount

CASALPUSTERLENGO: Italy reported Monday its fifth death from the new coronavirus, as the number of people contracting the disease continued to mount and officials called for calm.
Four of the dead were in the northern Lombardy region, where villages have been put under lockdown and security measures enforced in a bid to stem the spread of the disease.
Italian media reported a sixth victim, but officials could not immediately confirm this.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said that residents could face weeks in lockdown in an effort to sit out the virus.
“We need to stay alert, but do not panic! We must keep our heads,” said Attilio Fontana, Lombardy’s president.
The civil protection agency said 219 people had now tested positive in Italy, which has the most confirmed cases in Europe.
Eleven towns — 10 in Lombardy and one in neighboring Veneto — are under lockdown, with some 50,000 residents prohibited from leaving.
Regional authorities have ordered gathering spots, such as schools, bars, restaurants, cinemas and discos to close.
The measures imposed in the country’s north affect some 30 million inhabitants, the Repubblica daily said.
The spread of the virus has disrupted high-profile events including Milan Fashion Week and the Venice Carnival, while Serie A football matches have been postponed. Operas have also had to be canceled at Milan’s famed La Scala.
Masses in churches across the affected regions have been canceled and funerals limited to immediate relatives only.
Forty passengers on an Alitalia flight from Rome to Mauritius were held on landing Monday and refused permission to disembark, unless they consented to being placed in quarantine.
Alitalia said it was arranging for their immediate repatriation instead, despite none of the passengers showing any symptoms.
The stock market in Milan was down over 5.0 percent on Monday in a broad-based sell-off over virus fears.
Most of the cases in Italy are in Lombardy, a prosperous region in the country’s north where Milan is located, and which borders Switzerland.
They can be traced back to a 38-year-old man in the town of Codogno whom authorities have called “patient one.” He has not traveled to China and doctors failed to treat him with the necessary precautions.
But the man initially believed to have given him the virus after returning from Shanghai later tested negative.
“We still do not know who brought the coronavirus to Codogno,” Galli said.
Investigators are reconstructing minute by minute the man’s movements over the past few weeks — where he slept, ate, walked — in a bid to trace everyone he could have come into contact with.
“We had the most unfortunate situation possible; the outbreak of an epidemic in a hospital,” infectious disease expert Massimo Galli told the Corriere della Sera daily.
“In these cases, a hospital can turn into a frightening amplifier of contagion,” he said.
The virus may have spread to the Veneto region via a 60-year old farmer from Albettone. He had recently traveled to Codogno and is known to frequent bars in Vo’ Euganeo — where the region’s only victim so far lived.
A stretch of the Veneto region borders Austria.
Milan mayor Beppe Sala urged people to stay calm and refrain from “dashing to the supermarkets to grab food.
“We should spend time looking after the most vulnerable, such as old people, who are particularly at risk,” he said.
According to Italy’s national statistics institute, there are over seven million people in the country over the age of 75.
Italy has proposed a meeting of the health ministers of its border countries to determine “common lines of action” in the face of the coronavirus epidemic, the civil protection agency said.
France has said there is no need to close borders in response to the spread of virus in Italy.
Hungarian authorities issued a warning to citizens traveling to northern Italy, asking them to postpone their trip if possible, while incoming passengers will be screened at Budapest and Debrecen airports for fever symptoms.
Croatia meanwhile suspended all school strips to Italy for a month, and Switzerland said it was in a “state of heightened vigilance” due to the spread in Italy.
The jump in new coronavirus cases in Iran, Italy and South Korea in recent days is “deeply concerning,” the head of the World Health Organization said on Monday.
Simon Clarke, a specialist in cellular microbiology at England’s Reading University, said: “It seems that the virus can pass from person to person without symptoms, making it extremely difficult track, regardless of what health authorities do.”


Coronavirus worst crisis since Second World War, UN boss says as deaths surge

Updated 42 min 43 sec ago

Coronavirus worst crisis since Second World War, UN boss says as deaths surge

  • Around half of the planet’s population is under some form of lockdown
  • Lockdowns remain at the forefront of official disease-stopping arsenals — a strategy increasingly borne-out by science

WASHINGTON: The global death toll from the coronavirus pandemic continued to worsen Wednesday despite unprecedented lockdowns, as the head of the United Nations sounded the alarm on what he said was humanity’s worst crisis since World War II.
The warning came as Donald Trump told Americans to brace for a “very painful” few weeks after the United States registered its deadliest 24 hours of the crisis.
Around half of the planet’s population is under some form of lockdown as governments struggle to halt the spread of a disease that has now infected more than 850,000 people.
Well over 40,000 are known to have died, half of them in Italy and Spain, but the death toll continues to rise with new records being logged daily in the US.
“This is going to be a very painful — a very, very painful — two weeks,” Trump said, describing the pandemic as “a plague.”
“I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead.”
America’s outbreak has mushroomed rapidly. There are now around 190,000 known cases — a figure that has doubled in just five days.
On Tuesday, a record 865 people died, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University, taking the national toll so far to more than 4,000.
Members of Trump’s coronavirus task force said the country should be ready for between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths in the coming months.
“As sobering a number as that is, we should be prepared for it,” Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert.
America’s under-pressure health system is being supplemented by field hospitals sprouting up all over New York, including a tented camp in Central Park, a hospital ship and converted convention centers.
But even with the extended capacity, doctors say they are still having to make painful choices.
“If you get a surge of patients coming in, and you only have a limited number of ventilators, you can’t necessarily ventilate patients,” Shamit Patel of the Beth Israel hospital said. “And then you have to start picking and choosing.”
The extraordinary economic and political upheaval spurred by the virus presents a real danger to the relative peace the world has seen over the last few decades, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Tuesday.
The “disease ... represents a threat to everybody in the world and... an economic impact that will bring a recession that probably has no parallel in the recent past.”
“The combination of the two facts and the risk that it contributes to enhanced instability, enhanced unrest, and enhanced conflict are things that make us believe that this is the most challenging crisis we have faced since the Second World War,” he said.
In virtual talks Tuesday, finance ministers and central bankers from the world’s 20 major economies pledged to address the debt burden of low-income countries and deliver aid to emerging markets.
Last week G20 leaders said they were injecting $5 trillion into the global economy to head off a feared deep recession.
In the European Union, however, battle lines have been drawn over the terms of a rescue plan.
Worst-hit Italy and Spain are leading a push for a shared debt instrument — dubbed “coronabonds.”
But talk of shared debt is a red line for Germany and other northern countries, threatening to divide the bloc.
Deaths shot up again across Europe. While there are hopeful signs that the spread of infections is slowing in hardest-hit Italy and Spain, which both reported more than 800 new deaths Tuesday.
France recorded a one-day record of 499 dead while Britain reported 381 coronavirus deaths, including that of a previously healthy 13-year-old.
That came after a 12-year-old Belgian girl succumbed to an illness that is serious chiefly for older, frailer people with pre-existing health conditions.
Lockdowns remain at the forefront of official disease-stopping arsenals — a strategy increasingly borne-out by science.
Researchers said China’s decision to shutter Wuhan, ground zero for the global COVID-19 pandemic, may have prevented three-quarters of a million new cases by delaying the spread of the virus.
“Our analysis suggests that without the Wuhan travel ban and the national emergency response there would have been more than 700,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases outside of Wuhan” by mid-February, said Oxford University’s Christopher Dye.