Venice Carnival closes as Italy imposes lockdown over coronavirus

Italian officials have cut short the Venice Carnival as they try to control what is now the worst outbreak of the coronavirus in Europe

Italy has by far the highest number of coronavirus cases in Europe, with 152
Italy has by far the highest number of coronavirus cases in Europe, with 152

Italian officials have cut short the Venice Carnival as they try to control what is now the worst outbreak of the coronavirus in Europe.

Authorities in the Veneto region said the event would end later on Sunday, two days earlier than scheduled.

Italy has by far the highest number of coronavirus cases in Europe, with 152. Five people have died so far.

Italian media reported that the dead patient was 88 and came from the region of Lombardy. The four other people who have died of the illness were also elderly and at least three of them had been suffering serious underlying health problems

Italy has imposed strict quarantine restrictions in two northern "hotspot" regions close to Milan and Venice.

About 50,000 people cannot enter or leave several towns in Veneto and Lombardy for the next two weeks without special permission. Even outside the zone, many businesses and schools have suspended activities, and sporting events have been cancelled including several top-flight football matches.

The new strain of coronavirus, which originated last year in Hubei province in China, causes a respiratory disease called Covid-19. China has seen more than 76,000 infections and 2,442 deaths.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced on Saturday that "extraordinary measures" would come into force to try to stem the rising number of coronavirus cases. He said the quarantine restrictions could last for weeks.

Police, and if necessary the armed forces, will have the authority to ensure the regulations are enforced.

Angelo Borrelli, the head of Italy's Civil Protection Department, told reporters that 110 of the confirmed cases were in Lombardy, with 21 in Veneto with others in Emilia-Romagna and Lazio.

Officials reported a third death on Sunday, an elderly woman from the town of Crema suffering from cancer.

Italian officials say they are still trying to trace the source of the outbreak.

The Venice Carnival had been due to close on Tuesday but regional president Luca Zaia told Sky TG24 television on Sunday that it would be suspended, along with other events, in a bid to combat the virus.

Universities in Milan have been closed and the city's mayor, Giuseppe Sala, said schools would also close their doors while the outbreak continued.

"As a precaution, I think that the schools have to be closed in Milan. I will propose to the president of the region to enlarge the precaution to the entire metropolitan city area. It is just a precaution, we don't want to create panic," he said.

ECDC statement on the rapid increase of COVID-19 cases in Italy

In a statement, the ECDC said it was closely monitoring the situation. “We have been in contact with the Italian authorities to provide all necessary assistance at this stage and support their efforts in limiting sustained local transmission.”

The ECDC said that given the evolving situation it was assessing the impact that the clusters in Italy could have on the overall risk for the EU/EEA and will issue an updated risk assessment within the next 24 hours.

“ECDC is also in close contact with the European Commission and WHO Europe. At the same time, ECDC continues to work with all the other EU Member States, to make sure they receive the best support.”

According to the Istituto Superiore di Sanita (ISS), suspected cases of COVID-19 are first tested in the reference labs of the region and province. Those that test positive are retested in the ISS, and only those validated there are reported as confirmed cases.

“The Italian authorities are identifying all contacts of the confirmed cases and have announced public health measures for containment, including suspension of mass gatherings, suspension of childcare and schools, and access to essential public services conditioned to the use of personal protective equipment. These extraordinary measures in northern Italy are essential to limit the outbreak and may need to be replicated in other communities in the coming days,” the ECDC said.

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