Cases of COVID-19 have soared in Italy, making it the most infected country outside Asia. Neighboring countries are worried.
- Italy is scrambling to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus within its borders as cases of COVID-19 soar.
- Italy has the most cases outside of Asia. As of Wednesday evening, 12 people there had died from the disease.
- The country has put almost a dozen towns under lockdown, canceled major sporting events, and debated closing its borders with neighboring countries.
- The two most infected regions are Lombardy and Veneto in the north of Italy, home to Milan and Venice. New cases are also being reported in southern Italy.
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Italy is scrambling to fight a coronavirus outbreak after a sharp spike in cases and deaths made it the worst-hit country outside of Asia.
All the people who have died in Italy were elderly or had other health complications, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica and the Associated Press reported.
The country has put 11 towns on lockdown to contain the virus' spread.
The two most infected regions are Lombardy and Veneto in the north, which contain the major cities of Milan and Venice. But the virus has also spread farther south, with regions including Tuscany and the island of Sicily also reporting cases on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced an emergency plan to quarantine towns late on Saturday, locking down the settlements 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 about 100,000 people in the country were affected by the travel restrictions. Schools, museums, and theaters across the region have been closed.
Police officers and members of the armed forces have been given the authority to enforce the lockdown, the BBC reported.
On Tuesday, Conte warned against panic and defended the country's response to the virus.
"Obviously I can't say I'm not worried because I don't want anyone to think we're underestimating this emergency," he said, according to the AP. "But we trust that with the measures we've implemented there will be a containing effect in the coming days."
He also told La Repubblica that "we need to stop panic."
Empty carnivals, fashion shows, and soccer stadiums
The virus has prompted the cancelation of the annual Venice Carnival and the closing of some major landmarks.
The fashion house Giorgio Armani also held its runway show at Milan Fashion Week in an empty theater as a precaution.
Major soccer games have been played in empty stadiums, including the clash between the league leaders Juventus and Inter Milan on Sunday.
Photos show stores packed with shoppers and shelves rapidly emptying.
Neighboring countries are worried
Italy's north has open borders with France, Austria, Switzerland, and Slovenia.
Matteo Salvini, the former deputy prime minister of the country who leads the far-right Northern 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 said on Monday that it was not considering any travel suspensions within the bloc's border-free area, also known as the Schengen Area.
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, and the UK told people to avoid "all but essential" travel to affected towns.
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 on Sunday but later recommenced it.
Trains traveling out of the country from the north of Italy may also face delays and cancellations as train companies perform health checks, sanitize train carriages, and expect reduced demand for travel, La Repubblica reported.
The EU urged coordination during the outbreak
The EU on Monday said it was monitoring the spread of the coronavirus "around the clock" and said it would spend 232 million euros, or $252 million, to try to prevent a global outbreak.
Stella Kyriakides, the EU's Health Commissioner, told reporters Wednesday that EU countries have to have a coordinated response to tackling the virus.
"All member states need to inform us of their preparedness plans," she said, according to Reuters. "Diverging approaches across the EU should be avoided."
The coronavirus, thought to have originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has now infected more than 80,000 people and spread to at least 40 other countries, though most only have a handful of cases.
France recorded its first death from the coronavirus on Wednesday, though authorities say they do not yet know how or where the person contracted the virus.
The World Health Organization warned over the weekend that the window of opportunity to contain the virus was narrowing.