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Coronavirus: As death toll rises by 133 to 366, Italy becomes most affected nation after China

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Tourists visit the Colosseum, in Rome, Saturday, March 7, 2020.
Tourists visit the Colosseum, in Rome, Saturday, March 7, 2020.   -   Copyright  Andrew Medichini/AP
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In Italy, the death toll jumped to 133 in 24 hours, bringing the total number of deaths to 366 since the start of the epidemic, according to an official report released on Sunday.

Italy has now become the most affected country, after China.

Since the beginning of the outbreak in December, 109,032 cases of infection have been recorded in 99 countries and territories, causing the death of 3,792 people, according to a report established by AFP from official sources Sunday at 5:00 p.m. GMT.

4,129 new contaminations and 236 new deaths have been recorded since the count made the previous day at the same time.

Earlier this weekend, Italy has announced emergency measures restricting movement for millions of people in the north of the country, in a major escalation of official steps to counter the coronavirus outbreak.

The decree signed by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte early on Sunday bans all but essential travel across a swathe of the territory, including the Lombardy region and at least 15 provinces in neighbouring areas.

It covers major cities such as Milan and potentially affects about 16 million people in the country's prosperous north – meaning that around a quarter of the country's population could effectively be put on lockdown. The measures will be in place until April 3.

Designed to limit contagion at the epicentre of Europe's outbreak, the restrictions are also the most stringent outside China since the start of the outbreak.

Meanwhile, AFP confirms that France has passed the threshold of a thousand people infected with COVID-19 on Sunday at 3 p.m. The death toll now stands at 19 dead and 1,126 confirmed cases, according to official figures.

On Sunday evening, French health minister Olivier Véran banned any gathering of more than 1,000 people.

Protests, exams and public transport could be exempt from the ban on large gatherings, because they are "useful to the life of the country," Veran said. He suggested that nationwide municipal elections coming in a week would be maintained.

"For Lombardy and for the other northern provinces that I have listed there will be a ban for everybody to move in and out of these territories and also within the same territory," said Conte, making the announcement after midnight. "Exceptions will be allowed only for proven professional needs, exceptional cases and health issues."

More than 7,000 people in Italy have been infected with the coronavirus and more than 360 have died.

The main restrictions are as follows:

  • Movement will be severely restricted in and out of the affected areas. Only journeys for urgent, verified professional reasons, or for emergency situations, or for health reasons, will be permitted.
  • Schools and universities, museums, cinemas and theatres, swimming pools and other sports venues will be closed
  • Ski resorts are closed until further notice
  • The closures cover all events in "public and private spaces"
  • Weddings and funerals are suspended
  • Bars and restaurants can remain open but with restricted hours and under strict conditions
  • Religious centres remain open but with conditions
  • People who break the restrictions could face three months in jail

Announcement causes travel confusion

There has been some confusion on Sunday as to how the measures are to be applied in practice, and what they mean for tourists and other visitors already in Italy and wanting to leave, or for those with plans to come to the country.

Holidaymakers have trips planned, and many workers in Lombardy come from Switzerland, across the border to the north.

The decree signed by the prime minister was approved by the government on Sunday afternoon. Checkpoints are expected to be set up on motorways, stations and at other points of entry into Lombardy.

But it's not a complete lockdown: movement is still allowed within the restricted area and public transport will continue. The measures mean police can stop people and question them on their movements.

Significantly, movement into and out of the affected zones is continuing. Italy's Civil Aviation Authority ENAC said on Sunday that all airports, including those within the restricted zones, remained open and operational.

Flights to the affected zone have been continuing to operate and trains have been running. Easyjet said on its website on Sunday that its operations to and from airports in the area were not affected and the airline planned to operate its schedule as normal.

The UK Foreign Office guidance on travel to Italy on Sunday noted the latest measures, but its advice only advised against all but essential travel to 10 small towns in Lombardy and one in Veneto.

  • Pope Francis did not address crowds from his window overlooking St Peter's Square on Sunday morning, because of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy. The authorities had requested the move because of the risk of infection among the crowd as people queue to get through the security cordon. Instead, as previously announced, his address was streamed over the internet and on screens in the square.
  • The Vatican later announced it was shutting down its museums, which include access to the Sistine Chapel, until April 3 in line with the government restrictions.

  • Italy's sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora has called for Serie A matches to be suspended during the outbreak, backing an appeal from the country's Football Players' Association. Under the decree all matches are due to be played before empty stadiums until April 3. Five games went ahead on Sunday. The minister's comments led to the Parma v Spal fixture being delayed just before kickoff for 75 minutes.

(AP Photo/Antonio Calanni) Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
A view of the empty stadium during the Serie A soccer match between AC Milan and Genoa at the San Siro stadium, in Milan, Italy, Sunday, March 8, 2020.(AP Photo/Antonio Calanni) Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reservedAntonio Calanni

Reaction to Italy's emergency measures

Late on Saturday, there was chaos and confusion in the northern Italian towns and cities as word spread that the government was planning to announce the quarantine. Packed bars and restaurants quickly emptied out as many people rushed to train stations.

Before Conte signed the quarantine decree, Stefano Bonaccini, president of the Emilia Romagna region, said parts of the decree were confusing, and he asked the premier for more time to come up with solutions that were more "coherent".

Several regional governors in southern Italy are reportedly deeply unhappy with the new measures, fearing a mass movement of people from the north which could spread contagion rather than prevent it.

"Don't bring the Lombard, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna epidemic into our Puglia, by running away to get around the government decree," said Michele Emiliano, governor of the region in the southern Italian peninsula. He said he had passed an order requiring a quarantine for people arriving in Puglia from northern areas covered by the lockdown. State TV said others were intent on doing the same.

Despite the criticism, the measures have received support from the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Tedros Ghebreyesus tweeted to say Italy's government and people were taking "bold, courageous steps aimed at slowing the spread" of the coronavirus and were "making genuine sacrifices".

'People must stay at home'

Earlier on Saturday night, Italy announced it had seen its biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases since the beginning of the outbreak in the north of the country on February 21.

The number of cases in Italy rose by 1,247 in the last 24 hours, Italy's civil protection agency said. That increases the total number to 5,883 cases.

Another 36 died in the region, taking the total to 233.

Lombardy's health chief for intensive care said the region, one of the best for healthcare in the world, was "one step away from collapse", Corriere della Sera reported. Antonio Pesenti estimated that by March 26, 18,000 people would have to be hospitalised, with 3,000 needing intensive care.

"If the population do not understand that they must stay at home, the situation will become catastrophic," he said.

Officials said people in intensive care with ailments other than coronavirus in Lombardy would be transferred to neighbouring regions, all of which have greater availability.

The president of the national health service, Silvio Brusaferro, also urged people to abide by guidelines to limit contact as the only way to contain the virus.

On Sunday morning Italy's Rai state television said the governor of Piedmont in northern Italy had the coronavirus. If confirmed, he becomes the second governor of and Italian region to be infected. The head of Italy's Democratic Party, Nicola Zingaretti, also governor of Lazio, said he had tested positive.

Other developments on Sunday

  • Iran's state news agency IRNA said in a tweet that all flights to Europe from the country have been stopped. More than 1,000 infections were confirmed overnight, bringing the total to 5,823 cases, including 145 deaths.

  • The death toll from a hotel collapse in China stood at 10, with more than 20 people missing. The hotel in Quanzhou had been used to isolate people from other parts of the country affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

  • China has reported its lowest number of new infections in a day since January, only 40 new cases. At 27, the number of new deaths is also the lowest in over a month. The country has four-fifths of the world's COVID-19 confirmed cases, but numbers have stabilised.

  • The global situation shows the number of confirmed virus cases and deaths continuing to rise. However, evidence suggests that in most cases the symptoms are mild, while more than half of those infected by the coronavirus are recovering from it.

  • The Grand Princess cruise ship stranded off the Californian coast is to head to the port of Oakland. Thousands of passengers have been spending a weekend at sea after 21 out of 46 people tested were found to have the coronavirus. All on board will be quarantined, while those needing treatment will be taken to medical facilities.

  • Romania has banned events involving more than 1,000 people, according to media reports in the country.

  • Greece's health ministry says all sports events in the country will take place without spectators for the next two weeks.

  • Formula One organisers say the Bahrain Grand Prix from 20-22 March will not be open to spectators and a participants-only event.

  • Several European countries reported more coronavirus cases and deaths on Sunday. Among them, Spain said cases had risen by 159 in a day, to 589 overall -- with 13 deaths. The UK reported an increase of 64 cases to 273 in total.

Summary of Saturday's developments

  • Clashes erupt at a checkpoint between the Turkish and Greek side of Cyprus on Saturday, March 7 after the Cypriot government closed four of nine crossing points. The defended the closure of checkpoints saying it is to enable medical staff to better screen for coronavirus carriers.

  • A cruise boat on the River Nile carrying over 150 tourists and Egyptian crew was under quarantine in the southern city of Luxor after 45 people tested positive for the coronavirus, AP reports.

  • Some Saturday sporting fixtures were hit by the coronavirus outbreak. Paris St German's Ligue 1 match away to Strasbourg has been called off. So too was the Women's Six Nations rugby match between Scotland and France in Glasgow after a Scottish player tested positive.

  • Spanish police were sent to lock down part of a northern town where dozens of people caught the coronavirus after attending a funeral two weeks ago.

  • France gave new figures on Saturday night, saying that 16 people had now died from the virus. The number of known cases has risen by more than 200, to 949.

  • Malta confirmed its first case of coronavirus: a 12-year-old girl who had been in self-quarantine since returning from Italy.

  • Iran said that among those who had died from the virus was a newly elected lawmaker from Tehran, 55-year-old Fatemeh Rahabar, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.

Over 100,000 infected worldwide

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases globally has risen above 100,000, according to US researchers.

The Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) quoted several sources, including the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) in publishing its latest chart.

On Sunday afternoon (European time) the chart said the disease had now killed 3,792 people, out of a total number of confirmed cases of 109,3792. The figures showed 60,659 people had recovered from the disease.

In Europe, Italy (7,375 ) has the highest number of cases according to Johns Hopkins, followed by France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and the UK.

On Friday world health authorities accused some countries of failing to take the virus seriously enough, while the UN's human rights body warned that the world's poor risked being hit hardest by the economic impact of measures put in place to combat the disease.

"Every day we can slow the epidemic is another day hospitals can prepare themselves for cases," said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

"In a globalised world, the only option is to stand together. All countries should really make sure that we stand together."

France: epidemic now 'inevitable'

France's health ministry announced more deaths from COVID-19 on Saturday. Jérôme Salomon, the general director of health, said on Saturday night that there were now 949 confirmed case, and 16 people had died.

On Sunday afternoon, the death toll rose to 19.

Strasbourg's top division football match against Paris St Germain on Saturday was postponed, as the authorities said thousands of supporters might come from a badly affected area in the neighbouring Haut-Rhin department.

Previous days had seen a large increase in the number of cases in that part of eastern France. A French MP representing the area and a parliamentary worker have both been infected. Jean-Luc Reitzer, a conservative member in Alsace, is in hospital while the employee has been quarantined at home.

In "clusters" the country has identified, the virus is circulating "actively and rapidly", Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Friday, assuring citizens that the health system is prepared to fight the virus.

In those areas, the government said it would reinforce measures to fight the virus, by closing nursery schools and secondary schools starting Monday for 15 days.

Philippe also said they would limit all meetings in those areas unless they were necessary. They implored those who are elderly to stay at home.

French President Emmanuel Macron said earlier that an epidemic in France was "inevitable".

Jérôme Salomon said there were studies underway to better understand the virus, especially as it evolves in France.

"There are two different families, we don't know if the two viruses coexist or if they evolve towards each other or if we can have infections with both," Salomon said as he explained that the virus had evolved.

He said some people were sick with few symptoms for a couple of days whereas others developed a stronger cough and could be sick for over two weeks.

He emphasised that the people most at risk for the virus were elderly adults.

In other developments reported on Friday:

  • International stock markets fell again as fears about the coronavirus outbreak dominated trading.

  • UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet warned that the worst off in society may "all too easily be pushed over the edge" by efforts to combat the virus.

  • The European Parliament cancelled its plenary session in Strasbourg due to COVID-19 fears, saying health risks were "significantly higher" there than Brussels.

  • The Netherlands reported its first virus death. Three European states reported their first cases of coronavirus: Serbia, Slovakia, and the Vatican.

  • Lufthansa announced plans to reduce its flight programme by up to 50%.

  • A Mediterranean cruise ship was turned away from Malta after local doctors threatened industrial action. It followed news that a passenger on a prior voyage had tested positive for coronavirus. The ship headed on to its next scheduled stop in Sicily.

  • French authorities said that from Monday creches and secondary schools would be closed in two of the country's most coronavirus-hit regions -- the Oise and Haut-Rhin departments.

  • Japan cancelled this year's memorial for victims of the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami.

  • The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem closed indefinitely, weeks ahead of the Easter holiday.

  • Bollywood postponed its annual prize-giving ceremony, India's equivalent of the Oscars, the country's cinema industry announced.

  • The US Senate approved an $8.3 billion (€7.36 billion) package to tackle COVID-19.

WHO on transmission and containment

Ghebreyesus, the director-general of WHO, had strong words during this week on the spread of COVID-19.

"We are concerned that some countries have either not taken this seriously enough, or have decided there is nothing they can do," WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Thursday.

"This is not a drill, this is not a time to give up, this is not a time for excuses, this is a time for pulling out all the stops."

"We are preoccupied with the fact that in certain countries the level of political engagement and actions does not correspond with the level of the threat with which we are confronted," said Ghebreyesus.

"Countries have been preparing themselves for such a scenario for decades," he added. "It is time to react.

"This epidemic is a threat to all countries, rich and poor.

"Even high-income countries should expect surprises, the solution is to prepare in an aggressive manner.

"We don't think that containment should be abandoned. Don't give up, don't surrender, use a comprehensive approach," he added.

Meanwhile, WHO said it was aware a dog in Hong Kong had tested positive for the virus but said that they do not believe that this is a huge driver of transmission.

The organisation said on Friday that they were not sure what the true mortality rate is, but that it did not change the fact that older people and those with underlying conditions were more at risk.

WHO also said it had published a roadmap with priorities to give better advice and research protocols to governments.

Coronavirus' economic impact

The struggling British airline Flybe collapsed on Thursday amid drops in demand caused by the new coronavirus, leaving passengers stranded and threatening the viability of regional airports across the country.

Flybe's fall highlights the damage that the virus outbreak has had on the airline industry, which has cut back on flights around the world as people avoid flying out of precaution.

The British regional airline narrowly avoided bankruptcy in January but had continued to lose money. Unions and opposition politicians attacked both the airline's owners and Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government for failing to act to save it.

“We're all a bit gutted - Flybe is a household name, we've been flying with them for 40 years and we really tried to do everything we could back at the turn of the year,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News.

Shapps said that for “an already weak company,” the virus made survival impossible.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority urged customers to make their own alternative travel arrangements.