A man wearing a surgical mask walks past a petrol station in Codogno, southeast of Milan, on February 22, 2020

A man wearing a surgical mask walks past a petrol station in Codogno, southeast of Milan, on February 22, 2020   –  

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AFP


Italy has become the first country in Europe to have its own nationals die from COVID-19 coronavirus.

Authorities have put ten towns on lockdown in the north of the country after a cluster of cases emerged on Friday.

The latest victim was announced as a 75-year-old woman from Lombardy, which follows the death of man, 78, from Veneto.

The total number of cases nationwide is 59, with 46 patients in Lombardy, 11 in Veneto, one each in Piemonte and Umbria.

Many of the new cases represented the first infections in Italy acquired through secondary contagion.

Eight of the cases came at the same hospital in Codogno. A 38-year-old man was hospitalised there and his wife and a friend have also contracted it. Five medical staff, including nurses and doctors, have also tested positive.

‘Cluster of cases’

Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said Italy is now seeing the same sort of cluster of cases that Germany and France have seen.

The Italian Health Ministry ordered anyone who came into direct contact with the three to be quarantined for 14 days.

About 150 people, including medical personnel, were in isolation undergoing tests.

Veneto regional president Zaia said that the contagion showed that the virus is transmitted like any flu and that trying to pinpoint a single source for the cases or to establish a link to China no longer were effective containment measures.

“You can get it from anyone,” he told reporters. “We can expect to have cases of patients who had no contact” with suspected carriers. While the virus isn’t particularly lethal, it can be for the elderly or people with existing conditions, he said.

Towns in lockdown

The mayor of Codogno issued a decree ordering the closure of all restaurants, coffee bars, schools and public gathering spots such as discos and gyms. The health ministry advised area residents to stay home as a precaution.

Local officials in another town, Casalpusterlengo, ordered local schools closed through Tuesday.

A third town, Castiglione d’Adda, said its libraries, public offices, gyms and garbage depots would be closed as a health precaution.

The Codogno hospital closed its emergency room, and staff were seen wearing masks as movers brought in new beds and furniture as the quarantine got underway.

Deputy Health minister Pierpaolo Sileri said the manager who travelled to China and was put in isolation is not patient zero. Lab results showed the man did not develop antibodies against the virus.

Rome’s infectious disease hospital is currently caring for three other people who were infected, including a Chinese couple from hard-hit Wuhan and an Italian who is now testing ”persistently negative” for the virus after two weeks of anti-viral treatment.

Despite the calls for safeguards, Italians were having a hard time finding protective face masks. A sampling of Milan pharmacies reported selling out weeks ago, as did a pharmacist in Codogno.

Local Italian media said on Saturday that at least 10 towns were effectively locked down: Casalpusterlengo, Codogno, Castiglione d’Adda, Fombio, Maleo, Somaglia, Bertonico, Terranova dei Passerini, Castelgerundo and San Fiorano.

Individual cities outside the area covered by the ordinance, such as Cremona, issued their own restrictions after confirming there were local cases.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte held an emergency cabinet meeting with the Civil Protection on Saturday.

Conte declared the mandatory isolation of all people who were in contact with those who tested positive for the coronavirus and said the government was examining further measures to contain the outbreak.

More evacuees return to France

Meanwhile, a new plane repatriating 28 French people and 36 other EU citizens left Wuhan, China, on Friday, a diplomatic source confirmed to AFP.

The French evacuees will stay in quarantine in Calvados in Normandy.

This was the third plane sent from Paris to Wuhan, which has been under strict quarantine measures preventing travel for about a month.

 

This article has been corrected to say that ten towns are on lockdown. An earlier version said that there were twelve.