Italian authorities are putting a dozen towns on lockdown after a second death from coronavirus and a hike in the number of infections to around 30.
The number of people infected with COVID-19 had more than quadrupled on Friday after eight people contracted the virus in a northern hospital. Many of the new cases represented the first infections in Italy acquired through secondary contagion.
The first to fall ill was a 38-year-old Italian who met with someone who had returned from China on January 21 without presenting any symptoms of the new virus, health authorities said. That person was being kept in isolation and appears to present antibodies to the virus.
The 38-year-old is now hospitalised in critical condition. His wife and a friend of his also tested positive for the virus.
Three patients at the hospital in Codogno where he went with flu-like symptoms on February 18 also have infections, as do five nurses and doctors.
Another three people, who frequented the same cafe in the Lombardy region, also tested positive Friday in addition to the eight people at Codogno hospital, Gallera said.
‘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.
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, where the infected couple live, 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. The manager who travelled to China remains asymptomatic but was put into isolation at another hospital, Gallera said.
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.
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.