Two coronavirus patients in Italy have today died from the Covid-19 disease that has now killed 2,253 people and infected more than 77,268 across the world.
The two deaths have triggered a lockdown of 12 towns in the northeastern region of Lombardy and 50,000 people have been asked to stay indoors.
The first to die, a 78-year-old father-of-three, passed away in a hospital in Padua on Friday evening.
Adriano Trevisan, a retired bricklayer, had been admitted to the hospital for another health issue ten days ago said local authorities.
The second patient to die was an elderly woman whose death has triggered the closing down of shops, offices and community centres in Casalpusterlengo, according to Italian news agency Ansa.
The mayor of Milan, the business capital of Italy, shut down public offices.
Hundreds of residents and workers who came into contact with an estimated 54 people confirmed infected in Italy were in isolation pending test results.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte expressed his sympathies for the two deaths and said he had called an emergency meeting, as more than 50,000 people from about a dozen towns in two northern regions were asked to stay at home by the local authorities.
The few people out on the streets were wearing coveted face masks, which were nearly impossible to find in sold-out pharmacies.
The president of Lombardy, Attilio Fontana, said there were 39 confirmed cases in the region, where 10 towns received orders to suspend non-essential activities and services.
An elderly woman who died tested positive for the virus, though it wasn’t clear if that is what caused her death.
Health Minister Luca Zaia said on Saturday that the contagion showed that the virus is transmitted like any other flu and that trying to pinpoint a single source of infection or one with direct links to China is no longer effective.
‘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.
Mr Trevisan’s daughter, Vanessa, had been Mayor of Vo’ Euganeo, a small town of 3,300 inhabitants which is now under lockdown.
Hundreds of people who came into contact with the roughly 25 people infected with the disease were in isolation pending test results. Civil protection crews set up a tent camp outside a closed hospital in Veneto to screen medical staff for the virus.
The first town to be shuttered was Codogno, with a population of 15,000, where three people tested positive for the virus, including a 38-year-old man and his wife, who is eight months pregnant.
The 38-year-old, who works for Unilever in Lodi, is believed to have contracted the virus after meeting a friend who had recently returned from China in a bar.
He is now reportedly in a stable condition in hospital.
A football friend of his from his running club, the son of a bar owner in Codogno, has also tested positive, along with three regulars at the bar.
Three others there have tested positive to a first novel coronavirus test and are awaiting their definitive results.
The three, all of whom are retired, live in the small town of Castiglione d’Adda.
Tests are underway on the 38-year-old’s doctor, who made a house call on him, as well as on 120 people he worked within the research and development branch of Unilever in Casalpusterlengo, said Lombardy regional health chief Giulio Gallera.
Codogno mayor Francesco Passerini said the news of the cases ‘has sparked alarm’ throughout the town south of Milan. (Mail)
Five doctors and 14 other people tested positive for the virus in Lombardy, after apparently frequenting the same bar, with two other cases in Veneto, authorities said at a press conference.
Over 50,000 people have been asked to stay at home in the areas concerned.
Word of the contagion sparked fears throughout the region, particularly given the closure of the emergency room at the Codogno hospital.
‘We are old and we are very concerned,’ said 76-year-old Codogno resident Carmelo Falcone.
‘I live on my own. I really don’t know what to do.’
Italian health minister Roberto Speranza said Italy is now seeing the same sort of ‘cluster’ of cases that Germany and France have seen.
He signed an ordinance with Lombardy’s regional president outlining measures to contain the cluster to the 10 towns so far affected: Codogno, Castiglione d’Adda, Casalpusterlengo, Maleo, Fombio, Bertonico, Castelgerundo, Terranova dei Passerini, Somaglia and San Fiorano.
The towns, which have between 1,000-15,000 residents each, are located around 37 miles southeast of Milan, Lombardy’s capital and Italy’s business centre.
The ordinance suspends public gatherings, commercial and business activity, sport, education, and other recreational activities throughout the region, Mr Speranza, the health minister, said.
He defended the precautionary measures Italy took previously, noting that Italy remains the lone European country to have barred flights to and from China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
‘We had the highest measures in Europe,’ he said.
Individual cities outside the core cordon area, such as Cremona, issued their own restrictions cancelling school after confirming their own cases.
Streets in the towns were deserted, with only a few people seen abroad, and signs showing public spaces closed.
In Casalpusterlengo, where the second patient died, a large electronic message board outside the town hall read ‘Coronavirus: the population is invited to remain indoors as a precaution’.
Residents of the northern towns of Codogno and Castiglione d’Adda are being urged to stay at home as medical tests continue.
Some 250 people were being placed in isolation after coming into contact with the new cases, according to the Lombardy region, and 60 workers at Unilever have been tested for the virus.
The only other fatality in Europe was a Chinese tourist who died last week in France.
Earlier today, 19 Italians who spent more than two weeks quarantined on a virus-stricken cruise liner in Japan landed at Rome’s military Pratica di Mare airport. They had been stranded on the Diamond Princess since February 5.
Following the first health checks and decontamination process, the passengers were transferred to the military campus of Cecchignola where they will spend a 14-day isolation period.
In Rome, doctors at the Spallanzani infectious disease hospital reported some good news in the otherwise bleak day: An Italian who tested positive for the virus two weeks ago is to be released, and a sickened Chinese tourist has tested negative for the first time.
Spallanzani had been caring for these patients for more than two weeks, Italy’s only cases until the clusters emerged in the north on Friday.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is concerned about the number of coronavirus cases with no clear epidemiological link, although the total number of cases outside China remains relatively small, its director-general said on Saturday.
Cases with no clear link include those with no travel history to China or contact with a confirmed case, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Twitter.
According to reports, the disease remained mild in 80 per cent of coronavirus patients, and was severe or critical in 20 per cent of patients, he said. In 2 per cent of reported cases, the virus was fatal.
‘Our biggest concern continues to be the potential for COVID-19 to spread in countries with weaker health systems,’ he said. ‘We have also published a strategic preparedness and response plan, with a call for $675 million to support countries, especially those which are most vulnerable.’