Scrambling to contain rapidly rising number of new coronavirus infections in Italy, the largest amount outside Asia, authorities on Sunday stepped up measures to ban public gathering, including stopping Venice’s famed carnival events, which have drawn tens of thousands of revelers to a region this is now in the heart of the outbreak.
‘The ordinance is immediately operative and will go into effect at midnight’, announced Veneto regional Gov. Luca Zaia, whose are includes Venice, where thousands packed St. Mark’s Sequare to join in carnival fun. Carnival, would have run through Tuesday. Buses, trains and others forms of public transport – including boats in Venice – were being disinfected, Zaia told reporters.
Museums were also ordered to shut down after Sunday in Venice, a top tourist draw anytime of the year.
Authorities said three people in Venice have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, all of them in their late 80s and who are hospitalized in critical condition. Zaia said among those infected was a nurse.
Nearly all of Italy’s 133 known cases are clustered in the north, at least 25 of them in the Veneto region.
Authorities expressed frustration they haven’t been able to track down the source of the virus spread in the north, which surfaced last week when an Italian man in Codogno in his late 30s become critically ill.
‘The health officials haven’t been yet able to pinpoint Patient Zero’, Angelo Borrelli, head of the national Civil Protection agency, told reporters in Rome.
At first, it was widely presumed that the man was infected by an Italian friend he dined with and who recently returned from his job, based in Shanghai. When the friend tested negative for the virus, attention turned to several Chinese who live in town and who frequent the same café visited by stricken man. But Lombardy Gov. Attilio Fontana told reporters all of those Chinese have tested negative, too.
So for now, Borrelli indicated, strategy is concentrating on closure and other restrictions to try to stem the spread in the country which already had taken such measures early on in the global virus alarm, including banning direct flights from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau. Italy has also tested millions of airport passengers arriving from other places from any sign of fever.
In Lombardy, with 90 cases, so far the hardest-hit region, schools and universities were ordered to stay closed in the coming days, and sporting events were canceled. Lombardy’s ban on public events also extended to Masses in churches in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.
But while public Masses were forbidden in some towns in the hardest-hit areas, in the south, thousands turned out in the port city of Bari for a Mass by visiting Pop Francis, who shook hands with the faithful during his public appearance. Among those shaking the pope’s hand in Bari was Italian President Sergio Mattarela, who came to Bari for the event.
Museums, schools, universities and other public venues will be shut as well in Venice and the rest of Veneto. The shutdown is expected to last at least through March 1.
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