Coronavirus: Venice Carnival closes as Italy imposes lockdown

Italy quarantines whole towns, closes schools and cancels sports fixtures as infections increase.

Coronavirus: Venice Carnival closes as Italy imposes lockdown
The colourful Venice Carnival draws thousands of visitors to the city every year
 

Italian officials have cut short the Venice Carnival as they try to control what is now the worst outbreak of the coronavirus in Europe.

Authorities in the Veneto region said the event would end later on Sunday, two days earlier than scheduled.

Italy has by far the highest number of coronavirus cases in Europe, with 130. Two people have died.

Italy has imposed strict quarantine restrictions in two northern "hotspot" regions close to Milan and Venice.

About 50,000 people cannot enter or leave several towns in Veneto and Lombardy for the next two weeks without special permission. Even outside the zone, many businesses and schools have suspended activities, and sporting events have been cancelledincluding several top-flight football matches.

Elsewhere, authorities in South Korea and Iran are battling to control rising numbers of infections. South Korea has raised its coronavirus alert to the "highest level".

The new strain of coronavirus, which originated last year in Hubei province in China, causes a respiratory disease called Covid-19. China has seen more than 76,000 infections and 2,442 deaths. The virus has since spread to at least 11 other countries.

What is happening in Italy?

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced on Saturday that "extraordinary measures" would come into force to try to stem the rising number of coronavirus cases.

He said the quarantine restrictions could last for weeks.

Police, and if necessary the armed forces, will have the authority to ensure the regulations are enforced.

Angelo Borrelli, the head of Italy's Civil Protection Department, told reporters that 88 of the confirmed cases were in Lombardy, with 24 in Veneto with others in Piemonte, Emilia-Romagna and Lazio.

Italian officials say they are still trying to trace the source of the outbreak. Suspicions initially fell on a businessman who had returned to Lombardy from China, but he has tested negative, Italian media reported.

The Venice Carnival had been due to close on Tuesday but regional president Luca Zaia told Sky TG24 television on Sunday that it would be suspended, along with other events, in a bid to combat the virus.

"From this evening, we plan to stop carnival and all sporting activities until 1 March," he said.

 

Universities in Milan have been closed and the city's mayor, Giuseppe Sala, said schools would also close their doors while the outbreak continued.

"As a precaution I think that the schools have to be closed in Milan. I will propose to the president of the region to enlarge the precaution to the entire metropolitan city area. It is just a precaution, we don't want to create panic," he said.

What is happening elsewhere?

On Sunday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the country faced "a grave turning point", and the next few days would be crucial in the battle to contain the outbreak.

South Korea has reported six deaths and more than 600 confirmed infections - the highest number outside China, although an outbreak of coronavirus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Yokohama, Japan, has also seen more than 600 cases.

People in Daegu have voiced concern over the spread of the virus

"The government will raise the alert level to the highest level according to experts' recommendations," Mr Moon said.

Health officials revealed a further leap in the number of coronavirus cases with a cluster of infections linked to a hospital and to a religious group near the south-eastern city of Daegu.

The sixth death was confirmed at the Daenam Hospital, in Cheongdo, which treats the elderly and people with mental health issues. The hospital has seen more than 110 people infected including nine medical staff.

Of the 169 new cases announced in South Korea on Sunday, 95 of them are linked to a Christian sect in Daegu called the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said. The total number of cases connected to the church stands at 329.

On Sunday, China's President Xi Jinping described the outbreak as the "largest public health emergency" in the country's recent history.

He acknowledged "shortcomings" in China's response and said lessons must be learned.

On Saturday, Chinese authorities reported a decrease in the rate of deaths and new cases of the coronavirus.

But outside China, cases with no clear link to that country or other confirmed cases continue to rise, prompting concern from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The head of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the greatest concern now was countries with weaker health systems, particularly in Africa. BBC

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