Several towns in northern Italy are on lockdown after five people have died and around 152 people are confirmed to be infected with Covid-19. Three of the five deaths occurred in the northern Lombardy region, one in Padua in the Veneto region, and further information on the latest death is yet to be reported.
"Health officials haven't been yet able to pinpoint Patient Zero,'' Angelo Borrelli, Head of the Civil Protection Agency, told reporters in Rome.
On Sunday night, a train on its way from Venice to Munich was stopped at the Austrian border – a suspension order of train traffic to and from Italy, which was later lifted. The French Director of Health has also voiced concerns over the country’s proximity to Italy. There are not yet any plans for border controls.
Now that around 50,000 people are not able to enter or leave towns in Vento and Lombardy for the next two weeks without special permission, many business and schools have suspended activities; sporting events, including several top-flight football matches, have been cancelled, and on Monday (24 Feb), officials announced that they will cut short the Venice Carnival, which is to end two days earlier than scheduled.
The World Health Organization’s Walter Ricciardi asserted that, within two weeks, it will be clear whether we are facing an epidemic. He advised people to avoid crowded places such as the metro, buses, trains, schools and gyms for the next two weeks.
In China, over 77,000 cases of the virus have now been confirmed, with 2,593 deaths. South Korea now has 833 cases and a total of eight deaths, and Iran has confirmed 64 cases of the virus and 12 deaths – the highest number of deaths outside China.
Iranian officials asserted that people who had illegally entered Iran from Pakistan, Afghanistan and China were the source of the outbreak, while South Korean President Moon Jae-in raised the country’s alert level to maximum (Level 4: Serious) on Sunday (23 Feb), thus empowering the government to lock down cities and restrict travel. “The coming few days will be a critical time for us,” he said in an emergency meeting.
Fergus Welsh, Medical Correspondent for the BBC warned that the combined situation in South Korea, Iran and Italy points to the early stages of pandemic, as in each of these countries, we are seeing spread of the virus with no connection to China.
And commenting on WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ words of warning on Sunday, Professor of Health Protection at the University of East Anglia Paul Hunter said: “The Director General of the WHO has recently spoken of a narrowing of the window of opportunity to control the current epidemic. The tipping point – after which our ability to prevent a global pandemic ends – seems a lot closer after the past 24 hours.”
See the most up-to-date figures on the Covid-19 outbreak here.