12 towns in Italy are on coronavirus lockdown after at least 229 cases and 7 deaths
- Italy is scrambling to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus within its borders as cases of COVID-19 soar, making it the most infected country outside Asia.
- As of Tuesday morning, seven people in Italy had died from the disease.
- The country has put at least a dozen towns under lockdown, cancelled public events in major regions, and debated closing its borders with neighbouring countries.
- Other European countries are worried about how the virus might spread. Austria temporarily closed its rail services, and France is monitoring people coming in from Italy.
- The two most infected regions are Lombardy and Veneto in the north of Italy, home to the major cities of Milan and Venice. Southern Italy has also reported its first suspected case.
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Italy is scrambling to counter a COVID-19 outbreak after a sharp spike in cases and deaths made it the country worst infected by the novel coronavirus outside Asia.
As of Tuesday morning, seven people in Italy has died from the disease and at least 229 cases have been reported.
The country has put at least a dozen towns on lockdown with the hope of containing the spread.
The coronavirus had spread to more than six regions in the country as of Monday morning, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
The two most infected regions are Lombardy and Veneto in the north of Italy, home to the major cities of Milan and Venice.
Everyone who has died has been elderly and had other health complications, Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported.
The country has also reported its first cases in its central and southern regions. A man tested positive in Tuscany, Il Tempo newspaper reported, Nello Musumeci, the president of the autonomous Italian island of Sicily, said on Facebook that a woman was brought to the hospital after showing symptoms.
La Repubblica reported that of the 229 confirmed cases, 99 people are hospitalised with symptoms, 23 people are in intensive care, and 91 people are isolated in their homes and displaying symptoms.
Italy's north has open borders with countries including Austria, Switzerland, and Slovenia.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced an emergency plan to quarantine towns late on Saturday, locking down a dozen towns by blocking most travel to and from them. He said the quarantine could last for weeks, the BBC reported.
Italian officials estimated on Monday that around 100,000 people across the regions are affected by these and travel restrictions.
Police and members of the armed forces have been given the authority to enforce the lockdown, the BBC reported.
Empty carnivals, fashion shows, and soccer stadiums
The virus has also prompted the cancelation of the annual Venice carnival and the closing of some major landmarks.
The fashion house Giorgio Armani held its runway show at Milan Fashion Week in an empty theater as a precaution.
Major soccer matches have also been canceled.
Attilio Fontana, the governor of the Lombardy region, was preparing an order Sunday to suspend public events, cancel school, and close public places like museums, a statement said.
Matteo Salvini, the former deputy prime minister of the country and leader of the far-right National League party, called for the country's borders to be closed, but Conte dismissed the idea at a Saturday press conference.
"I don't think the conditions for such a move exist at this point," Conte said, according to Politico.
The European Union also said on Monday that it was not considering any travel suspensions within the bloc's border-free area, also known as the Schengen zone.
France warned anyone visiting the Lombardy and Veneto regions to wear face masks, regularly check their temperature, and avoid nonessential travel, the AP reported.
Officials in France and Austria are monitoring their borders for visitors from Italy who could be carrying the virus, according to the AP. Ireland has also advised its citizens not to travel to affected areas of Italy.
Romania's health ministry on Sunday said all Romanian citizens coming back from Lombardy and Veneto would be quarantined for 14 days, Politico reported.
Austria temporarily halted rail traffic across its border with Italy but later recommenced it.
Trains traveling out of the country from the north of Italy are facing delays and cancellations as train companies perform health checks, sanitise train carriages, and expect reduced demand for travel, La Repubblica reported.
The EU said on Monday that it is monitoring the spread of the coronavirus "around the clock" and announced 232 million euros (R3 billion) to prevent a global outbreak.
COVID-19 cases have also been recorded in Germany, the UK, France, Spain, Belgium, Sweden, and Finland, but all have only a handful of confirmed patients and, in some cases, as few as one.
The coronavirus, thought to have originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has now infected more than 70,000 people in China and has spread to at least 29 other countries.
The World Health Organisation warned over the weekend that the window of opportunity to contain the virus was narrowing.
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