Italy reported Monday its fourth death from the new coronavirus, an 84-year old man in the northern Lombardy region, as the number of people contracting the disease continued to mount.
It was the third death in Lombardy, where villages have been put under lockdown and security measures enforced in a bid to stem the spread of the disease, the region’s health department said.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said that residents could face weeks in lockdown in an effort to sit out the virus.
Lombardy’s president Attilo Fontana said 165 people had now tested positive in the region, the worst-hit zone in Italy.
Italy has the most confirmed cases in Europe.
“The number is still rising, but we are sure that the measures taken will prevent it spreading further,” Fontana said.
Eleven towns — 10 in Lombardy and one in neighbouring Veneto — are under lockdown, with some 50,000 residents prohibited from leaving.
Regional authorities have ordered gathering spots, such as bars, restaurants, cinemas and discos to close.
The spread of the virus has disrupted high profile events including Milan Fashion Week and the Venice Carnival, while Serie A football matches have been postponed. Operas have also had to be cancelled at Milan’s famed La Scala.
Churches are being kept open but all masses have been cancelled and funerals limited to immediate relatives only.
The stock market in Milan was down more than 4.0 percent on Monday morning in a broad-based sell-off.
– ‘Outbreak in hospital’ –
Most of the cases in Italy are in Lombardy, a prosperous region in the country’s north, and can be traced back to a 38-year-old man in the town of Codogno whom authorities have called “patient one”.
Investigators are reconstructing minute by minute the man’s movements over the past few weeks — where he slept, ate, walked — in a bid to trace everyone he could have come into contact with.
“We had the most unfortunate situation possible; the outbreak of an epidemic in a hospital,” infectious disease expert Massimo Galli told the Corriere della Sera daily.
“Unfortunately, in these cases, a hospital can turn into a frightening amplifier of contagion,” he said.
The 38-year old had not travelled to China and doctors failed to treat him with the necessary precautions.
The man initially believed to have given him the virus after returning from Shanghai later tested negative.
“We still do not know who brought the coronavirus to Codogno,” Galli said.
– ‘Extremely difficult to track’ –
Simon Clarke, Cellular Microbiology associate professor at the UK’s Reading University, said on Monday: “It seems that the virus can pass from person to person without symptoms, making it extremely difficult track, regardless of what health authorities do”.
“While it remains the case that most people who become infected will have light symptoms or none at all, such uncontrollable spread would present a serious risk to vulnerable individuals”, he added.
Fontana urged residents to stay calm and stop panic buying, saying “rushing to stock up on food doesn’t make any sense. There are enough supplies”.
Milan mayor Beppe Sala echoed his plea, saying: “Rather than dashing to the supermarkets to grab food, perhaps we should spend time looking after the most vulnerable, such as old people, who are particularly at risk”.
Schools have been closed as a precaution in Lombardy, Veneto, Piedmont, Emilia Romagna and Friuli Venezia Giulia.
Piedmont shares a border with France, while the other regions neighbour Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia.
France has said there is no need to close borders in response to the spread of virus in Italy.
Trains and metros in Milan were running half empty at rush hour Monday, with passengers using face masks or covering their mouths and noses with scarves.