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Italy in lockdown with more than 10,000 coronavirus infections

Authorities said 631 people have died of the Covid-19 illness in the country.

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Waiters pile up chairs and prepare to close at a restaurant in Rome (AP/Andrew Medichini)

Waiters pile up chairs and prepare to close at a restaurant in Rome (AP/Andrew Medichini)

Waiters pile up chairs and prepare to close at a restaurant in Rome (AP/Andrew Medichini)

An increasingly locked down Italy has more than 10,000 coronavirus infections and recorded soaring deaths among its ageing population.

Capital city Rome has been transformed into a ghost town after Italy’s 62 million population was told to mostly stay at home. And while shops, cafes and restaurants remain open, police around the country are enforcing rules that customers stay 3 feet apart and certain businesses close by 6pm.

Authorities said 631 people have died of the Covid-19 illness in Italy, with an increase of 168 deaths recorded on Tuesday. The health crisis is dealing a serious blow to the country’s economy – the third-largest of the 19 countries using the euro – and threatens instability worldwide.

The Italian government announced it is earmarking 25 billion euros (£22 billion) to confront the coronavirus, with the first spending commitments by the end of week.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

Economic minister Roberto Gualtieri said a decree expected by Friday will outline spending of about 12 billion euros (£10.5 billion), which will include measures to support health services and the civil protection agency and to support the labour market.

Markets across Asia have dropped despite Wall Street’s gains a day earlier. Investors seemed encouraged by promises by US President Donald Trump of a relief package to cushion economic pain from the outbreak. Governments around Asia and elsewhere have also announced billions of dollars in stimulus funds, including packages revealed in Japan and Australia.

“Investors are still worried that those fiscal stimulus packages may not be able to contain the virus outbreak as well as to mitigate the impact on the economy,” said Louis Wong of Philip Capital Management.

For most, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as a temperature and cough. But for a few, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illnesses, including pneumonia. More than 119,000 people have been infected worldwide and over 4,200 have died.

Markets in Asia have slumped
Markets in Asia have slumped (AP/Kin Cheung)

The virus has disrupted travel, closed schools and halted manufacturing in places around the globe.

The Vatican’s representative to East Timor said that an expected visit by Pope Francis, though never made official, would not happen later this year.

In the US, dozens of cases are being tied to a conference in Boston, and leaders in multiple states are announcing curbs on large events. Universities around the country are emptying their classrooms and moving to online instruction and uncertainty surrounds the upcoming opening of the Major League Baseball. Even the famed buffets of Las Vegas have been affected, with some of the Strip’s biggest being closed in a precautionary measure.

“It’s terrifying,” said Silvana Gomez, a student at Harvard University, where undergraduates were told to leave campus by Sunday. “I’m definitely very scared right now about what the next couple days, the next couple weeks look like.”

New York’s governor said National Guard troops would scrub public places and deliver food to a suburb where infections have spiked. In Washington state, where a Seattle-area nursing home was the centre of an outbreak, officials said the virus had spread to at least 10 other long-term care facilities. In California, thousands of restless passengers remained stuck on a cruise ship, waiting for their turn to disembark to begin quarantines.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

The two men vying to take on Mr Trump in the US presidential election – former vice president Joe Biden and senator Bernie Sanders – have abruptly cancelled rallies and left open the possibility that future campaign events could be affected, too. Mr Trump’s campaign insisted it would proceed as normal, though vice president Mike Pence conceded future rallies would be evaluated “on a day to day basis”.

It is all evidence of the continuing westward push of the virus. In China, where it first emerged, officials said they had counted only 24 new cases on Wednesday.

In a reversal of positions, China is seeing new cases brought in from overseas. In Beijing, the capital, all the new cases of Covid-19 reported on Wednesday came from outside the country, five from Italy and one from the United States.

Iran said the coronavirus death toll has risen by 63 to 354 amid more than 9,000 cases in the Islamic Republic.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel cited expert estimates that up to 70% of the population could be infected by the new coronavirus as she insisted on the necessity of measures to slow its spread.

Germany had confirmed some 1,300 infections as of Wednesday, with two deaths.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel takes part in a news conference about the coronavirus outbreak in Germany in Berlin
German Chancellor Angela Merkel takes part in a news conference about the coronavirus outbreak in Germany (Markus Schreiber/AP)

The government has recommended the cancellation of all events with more than 1,000 people, among other things.

Mrs Merkel said at a news conference in Berlin: “You have to understand that if the virus is there, and the population has no immunity yet to this virus, there are no vaccines and no therapy so far, a high percentage – experts say 60 to 70% – of the population will be infected.”

She said the priority is to slow the spread of the disease “so all the measures we are taking are of the greatest significance because they are giving us time – it does matter what we do, it is not in vain”.

Belgium’s health ministry announced a first death related to the coronavirus, with health authorities saying the patient was a 90-year-old woman.

Since the epidemic that emerged in China late last year began, 314 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in Belgium but the ministry predicted that more cases would soon emerge, saying hospitals are seeing more and more people with respiratory infections.

The European Union nation introduced a series of preventive measures on Tuesday, including a recommendation to ban indoor gatherings of more than 1,000 people.

Schools remain open so far but the elderly and people with underlying health conditions are being urged to avoid public transportation.

Spain’s coronavirus cases have surpassed 2,000, with roughly half of them in the Madrid region, where two-thirds of the country’s virus deaths have occurred.

The Health Ministry on Wednesday reported 2,002 cases nationally, up 363 from the previous day. Deaths reached 47, up 11 from Tuesday.

Customers wear face masks in a supermarket in Madrid, Spain
Customers wear face masks in a supermarket in Madrid (Manu Fernandez/AP)

Beijing’s city government said all passengers arriving in the city from overseas, regardless of their points of departure, are now required to undergo a 14-day quarantine.

The order, which goes into immediate effect on Wednesday, is part of stepped-up measures to prevent the virus that was first detected in China from re-entering the country.

Swiss customs authorities have shut down nine border crossings with Italy to channel border traffic through seven other sites.

The move follows a decision by Italian authorities to continue to allow cross-border traffic with Switzerland despite adopting strong quarantine measures across Italy.

Neighbours Austria and Slovenia have barred travellers from Italy without a medical certificate.

Swiss customs officials are advising tourists from Italy to refrain from travelling to Switzerland by rail or road “insofar as possible”.

Hungary has declared a nationwide state of emergency due to the spread of the coronavirus and banned the entry of people arriving from Italy, China, South Korea and Iran.

University classes have been suspended since there are many foreign students attending but classes at schools will continue for now as children seem to be among those least affected by the virus.

Events cannot be held for more than 100 people indoors and for over 500 people outdoors.

So far, Hungary has 13 cases of the coronavirus, several of them Iranian students recently returned from their homeland.

Honduras has confirmed the first two cases of the new coronavirus in the country.

PA