As authorities battled to contain a fast-spreading outbreak of the new coronavirus that has already killed 2,600 in China a swath of “hot spot” cities and towns across northern Italy were in lockdown Monday
The outbreak is not there yet, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization.
In Europe, “protecting our citizens is the main priority,” said Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety. “We are all taking this situation seriously, but without giving in to panic, disorder or disinformation.”
In Italy, the death toll rose to five. With more than 200 cases of the virus confirmed, Italy is easily the most involved European country. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has banned people from leaving infected areas, and police have been ordered to fine anyone caught entering or leaving certain towns.
Soldiers patrolled piazzas in Milan, and Venice shut down its iconic carnival three days early as Italy tightened restrictions on large public gatherings that could fan the spread of the virus.
Police-manned road blocks have been set up to stop people entering or leaving about a dozen towns. Several regions have closed schools, universities, museums, monuments and libraries and banned public events that attract big crowds.
Basilicata Gov. Vito Bardi ordered 14-day quarantines for anyone entering his sprawling southern region from the northern Italy.
Virus investigators in Italy suffered a setback when a person who recently visited China and was thought to be the “patient zero” for the Italian outbreak tested negative for the virus. Kyriakides announced that a team of experts from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control and the World Health Organization was being sent to help Italy in its efforts to limit the transmission of COVID-19.
“We are following the situation in Italy very closely and commend the Italian authorities for their swift and efficient action,” Kyriakides said.
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