Italy imposed a complete shut down of ten towns located in its Northern part as COVID-19 claimed its victim in the country. By Sunday,152 people had tested positive for the fatal virus, making Italy the worst-hit country in Europe.
The shutdown affects a population of 50,000 living in the quarantined areas. The worst affected areas are Lombardy and Veneto. A blockade has been set around these towns, with police deployed to restrict the entry and exit from the area. Those found flouting the restrictions would be liable for punishment including fines and imprisonment of up to three months.
The dead include a 77-year-old woman in Milan's Lombardy, a 78-year-old man from Padua in Veneto region, and a 38-year-old man in Codogno.
Italy's Patient Zero still untraceable
Earlier while addressing a press conference, Angelo Borrelli, head of the country's Civil Protection agency, said that there were 110 cases in the northern Italian region of Lombardy. The authorities have urged those in contact with infected people to stay at home and undergo a quarantine period of 14 days.
Amidst tackling the spike in coronavirus cases, the authorities are on a lookout for patient zero, the first carrier of the COVID-19 in the country, as it still remains untraceable. "We still cannot identify patient zero, so it's difficult to forecast possible new cases," he said.
Stating that the spread of the fatal virus can be much more higher than anticipated, Luca Zaia, governor of the Veneto region said: "If we cannot find 'patient zero' then it means the virus is even more ubiquitous than we thought."
Public gathering and events cancelled
Taking stringent measures to restrict the spread of COVID-19 further, the Italian authorities, apart from shutting down schools, nurseries, museums, restaurants, public offices, have suspended all public gatherings and events including three soccer matches scheduled to be held in Lombardy and Veneto, and Milan Fashion Week. While announcing the cancellation of the ongoing Venice Carnival, Zaia, called the Coronavirus outbreak in the region as the "worst problem that Veneto has faced".
In a public announcement, Italy's Health Minister Roberto Speranza said that severe restrictions in the affected regions have been put in place. The restrictions included the closure of public buildings, limited transport, and the surveillance and quarantine of individuals who may have been exposed to the virus. "We are asking basically that everyone who has come from areas stricken by the epidemic to remain under a mandatory house stay," he said.
WHO says 'Window of Opportunity is narrowing'
With COVID-19 reaching Europe, which was previously unaffected, concerns have been raised about containing the deadly virus which has so far claimed thousands of lives across the globe. World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that there are still chances to contain the virus from spreading beyond China, "but the window of opportunity is narrowing."
"Although the total number of cases outside China remains relatively small, we are concerned about the number of cases with no clear epidemiological link, such as travel history to China or contact with a confirmed case. The increase in cases in Iran, South Korea and Italy is also a matter of concern and how the virus is now spreading to other parts of the world," he added.
Expressing concern over the sudden surge of coronavirus cases in Europe, WHO's European regional director Hans Kluge wrote on twitter that amidst the rise of new cases and a lack of clarity over its spread in Italy, a team is being sent there to learn about virus spread and contain it.