Italy towns on effective lockdown after death, virus cluster
CODOGNO, Italy (AP) - A dozen northern Italian towns were on effective lockdown Saturday after the new virus linked to China claimed a first fatality in Italy and sickened an increasing number of people who had no direct links to the origin of the virus.
The secondary contagions prompted local authorities in towns in Lombardy and Veneto to order schools, businesses and restaurants closed, and to cancel sporting events and Masses. The mayor of Milan, the business capital of Italy, shuttered public offices.
In hard-hit Codogno, where the first patient of the cluster to fall ill was in critical condition, main street was practically a ghost town Saturday, with supermarkets, restaurants and businesses closed. The few people out on the streets were wearing coveted face masks, which were nearly impossible to find in sold-out pharmacies.
Hundreds of people who came into contact with the more than 20 confirmed infected in Italy were in isolation pending test results, and civil protection crews set up a tent camp outside a closed hospital in Veneto to screen medical staff for the virus.
Three cases were reported in Veneto, including that of a 78-year-old man who died late Friday, state-run RAI television, ANSA and LaPress news agencies reported, citing the Veneto regional president, Luca Zaia.
Zaia said Saturday that the contagion showed that the virus is transmitted like any other flu, and that trying to pinpoint a single source of infection or one with direct links to China is no longer effective.
"You can get it from anyone," he told reporters. "We can expect to have cases of patients who had no contact" with suspected carriers.
An initial ordinance penned by the health minister imposed an effective lockdown on 10 Lombardy towns around Lodi, southeast of Milan, after Lombardy reported a quadrupling of cases Friday. But individual cities outside that core cordon area, such as Cremona, issued their own restrictions canceling school after confirming their own cases.
The numbers of infected were in constant flux, but by Saturday had topped 20. A press conference was planned later Saturday to provide the most up-to-date figures.
Authorities urged calm, but acknowledged that the clusters were alarming given the secondary contagions. The first man to be confirmed as infected in Lombardy had met with someone who had returned from China on Jan. 21, but remains without symptoms.
He worked at a Unilever plant near Codogno, and more than 100 of his colleagues were being kept in isolation pending test results.
Separately Saturday, 19 Italians who spent more than two weeks quarantined on a virus-stricken cruise liner in Japan landed at Rome's military Pratica di Mare airport. They had been stranded on the Diamond Princess since Feb. 5.
Following the first health checks and decontamination process, the passengers were transferred to the military campus of Cecchignola where they will spend a 14-day isolation period.
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