Tuesday sees Italy virus cases rise 45%; 11 dead

A street in downtown Milan's Chinese neighborhood Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 25 February 2020

Tuesday sees Italy virus cases rise 45%; 11 dead

  • Infections in other European countries traced to people who had recently travelled to Italy
  • The country has the most confirmed cases in Europe

ROME: Italy reported a 45% one-day increase in people infected with the coronavirus as other countries in Europe recorded their first cases Tuesday, producing evidence that travelers are carrying the virus from the European outbreak’s current epicenter.
Italian officials reported 11 deaths and 322 confirmed cases of the virus, 100 more than a day earlier. While the majority were concentrated in northern Italy, some of the new cases showed up in parts of Italy well outside the country’s two hard-hit regions, including three in Sicily, two in Tuscany and one in Liguria.
An Italian couple from the afflicted north tested positive in the Canary Islands off Africa, forcing the quarantine of their hotel in what one guest said felt like being “monkeys in a cage.” Austria, Croatia and Switzerland reported their first cases, all in people who recently traveled to Italy.
The four new deaths in Italy, like the seven reported earlier, were in patients who were elderly, suffering from other ailments, or both, officials said.
Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte defended the measures Italy has taken to contain the outbreak and predicted a stabilizing of numbers soon. But he acknowledged that the rise in cases — the most outside Asia — was “worrisome.”
“Obviously I can’t say I’m not worried because I don’t want anyone to think we’re underestimating this emergency,” he said before a meeting with a visiting World Health Organization mission. “But we trust that with the measures we’ve implemented there will be a containing effect in the coming days.”
Italy has closed schools, museums and theaters in the two regions where clusters have formed and troops are enforcing quarantines around 10 towns in Lombardy and the epicenter of the Veneto cluster, Vo’Euganeo.
But Italy hasn’t yet identified the source of the outbreak. Angelo Borrelli, the head of the Italian civil protection department, said the increase in cases from 222 to 322, representing a 45% increase, came from people who tested positive for the virus in a 24-hour period from Monday evening to Tuesday evening.
The southern island of Sicily reported its first three positive cases from a woman vacationing from Bergamo, in Lombardy and two others traveling with her. Two cases were also reported in Tuscany, south out of the epicenter.
Spain counted three active cases: a woman in Barcelona who had been in Lombardy in recent days, and a doctor from northern Italy and his partner who were vacationing in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands.
The hotel where the couple was staying, the H10 Adeje Palace was locked down after they tested positive for the virus and 1,000 tourists prevented from leaving, according to Spanish news media and town officials in Adeje.
“We do remain patient but we haven’t had anything to eat and drink at the hotel today,” Harriet Strandvik, the mother in a family of four stuck at the hotel, told Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat. “We feel a little bit like monkeys in a cage here as there are media representatives present near the hotel and police officers guarding the area are wearing masks.”
The Canary Islands, an archipelago located around 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of the African coast, is a popular vacation destination that attracts Europeans year-round. Many Italians are vacationing this week as schools have a mid-winter break.
Conte shocked Lombardy officials by taking to task the hospital in Codogno, southeast of Milan, where Italy’s first positive patient went on Feb. 18 with flu-like symptoms. The man was sent home, only to return a short time later with worsening conditions, at which point he was tested for the virus.
Many of Lombardy’s 200-plus positive tests have a traceable connection to the Codogno hospital, including several doctors and nurses, patients and relatives who visited them.
Conte told reporters that the Lombardy cluster grew “because of the hospital management that wasn’t completely proper according to the protocols that are recommended for these cases.”
“This surely contributed to the spread,” he said.
Lombardy’s chief health official, Giulio Gallera, expressed shock at Conte’s remarks and defended the region’s handling of the crisis.
“It’s offensive. It’s unacceptable,” Gallera said, noting that the man presented none of the main risk factors for the virus — travel to China or contact with an infected person — when he first went to the emergency room.
The man was eventually tested after doctors ascertained from his wife that he had met with someone who had recently returned from China. But officials have excluded that contact as the source of the outbreak since that person tested negative.
As officials worked to get ahead of the spread nationally, the reality of a two-week quarantine was setting in for residents of Italy’s isolated “red zones” — the cluster of 10 towns in Lombardy and Veneto’s tiny Vo’Euganeo.
“The concern is palpable, people are worried, partly because of what they hear on television, information, on social media,” said Davide Passerini, the mayor of Fombio, one of the Lombardy towns under lockdown. “Life is like it is in other isolated villages: Everything is shut, people go out just to do their shopping.”
And they wait to see if they develop symptoms.
Italy initially tested anyone who came into contact with an infected person. But with the numbers growing and supply issues with test kits, masks and protective gear, Italy’s national health system revised its containment strategies.
People who live or have visited the quarantined areas, or who who have been in contact with positive cases, are advised to self-quarantine for two weeks. They are instructed to take their temperatures twice a day, and stay in touch with their doctors or the national health service via an overwhelmed toll-free number.
Only if they develop symptoms are they tested, most often by a team performing house calls to prevent hospitals and clinics being overly stressed, said Elia Delmiglio, mayor of Casalpusterlengo, another of the 10 towns in Lombardy’s “red zone.”
“Local health structures are doing their best, but in some cases they were not ready to face such an emergency,” Delmiglio said.
The town — with more than 15,000 inhabitants — doesn’t have a working emergency room, only a hospital mainly specializing in cancer patients, who are particularly at risk for contracting the virus.
In another hotbed of the virus outbreak — Veneto’s tiny town of Vo’Euganeo, which has most of Veneto’s 43 cases — local authorities were still planning to test all 3,300 residents and 600 acting hospital staff.
“I’m being optimistic and I feel well,” said resident Andrea Casalis, as he waited to be tested. “People continue to go out here and talk in the streets, but we try to keep some security distance.”


Six French citizens among eight killed by gunmen in Niger

Updated 51 min 43 sec ago

Six French citizens among eight killed by gunmen in Niger

  • It is believed to be the first such attack on Westerners in Koure, an area of southwestern Niger

KOURE: Six French citizens and their local guide and driver were killed Sunday by gunmen riding motorcycles in an area of southwestern Niger home to the last West African giraffes, officials said.
It is believed to be the first such attack on Westerners in the area, a popular tourist attraction in the former French colony thanks to its unique population of West African or Niger giraffes.
“There are eight dead: two Nigeriens including a guide and a driver, while the other six are French,” the governor of the Tillaberi region told AFP.
“We are managing the situation, we will give more information later,” Tidjani Ibrahim Katiella said, without indicating who was behind the attack.
France’s presidency confirmed that French citizens had been killed in Niger, without giving the number of dead.
A source close to Niger’s environmental services said the assault took place at around 11:30 am (1030 GMT) six kilometers (four miles) east of the town of Koure, which is an hour’s drive from the capital Niamey.
“Most of the victims were shot... We found a magazine emptied of its cartridges at the scene,” the source told AFP.
“We do not know the identity of the attackers but they came on motorcycles through the bush and waited for the arrival” of the group.
The source added that the victims’ vehicle belonged to the French humanitarian organization ACTED.
The source also described the scene of the attack, where bodies were laid side-by-side next to a torched vehicle, which had bullet holes in its rear window.
In Paris, a spokesman for the French army said France’s Barkhane force, which fights extremists in the Sahel region, had provided support to Niger’s forces.
An AFP reporter at the scene of confirmed that French fighter jets flew overhead later Sunday as Niger’s army searched the vast wooded area.
Forensic police were collecting samples ahead of the bodies being moved before night fell, the reporter added.
The office of French President Emmanuel Macron said he spoke on the phone with his Niger counterpart Mahamadou Issoufou.
Neighbouring Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita meanwhile strongly condemned the “barbaric act.”
He lamented that “violent extremism” was still rife in the Sahel region “despite the merciless war waged by national armies, the G5 Sahel joint forces and the Barkhane force.”
Around 20 years ago, a small herd of West African giraffes, a subspecies distinguished by its lighter color, found a safe haven from poachers and predators in the Koure area.
Today they number in their hundreds and are a key tourist attraction, enjoying the protection of local people and conservation groups.
A Western humanitarian source based in Niamey said “we all go to Koure on weekend outings because it’s very easy to access.”
“Everyone goes there, even ambassadors, diplomats, teachers... it is not considered a dangerous zone at all. There are NGOs protecting giraffes there,” the source told AFP.
However the Tillaberi region is in a hugely unstable location, near the borders of Mali and Burkina Faso.
The region has become a hideout for Sahel extremist groups such as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS).
The use of motorcycles has been totally banned since January in an attempt to curb the movements of such extremists.
Numerous Europeans have been abducted or killed in the volatile Sahel.
Two young Frenchmen, Antoine De Leocour and Vincent Delory, were killed after being kidnapped by extremists from a restaurant in Niger’s capital Niamey in 2011.