Europe

Venice Carnival closes as Italy battles to contain Europe's worst coronavirus outbreak

A local police officer wears a protective face mask during the Carnival in Venice, Italy, 23 February 2020. Source: AAP

Three people infected with the coronavirus in northern Italy have died, prompting the country to put tens of thousands of citizens in lockdown and cancelling Venice's world-famous masquerade carnival.

Police patrolled the perimeters of virus-stricken northern Italian towns Sunday as Italy put tens of thousands of people under lockdown and cancelled festivals and sporting events in an attempt to halt Europe's worst outbreak of the new coronavirus.

An elderly cancer patient has become the third person infected with the coronavirus to die in Italy, as the number of people contracting the virus mounts. 

The 77-year-old woman had been in hospital in Crema, in Lombardy, where most cases of infections have been reported. 

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"She had been hospitalised for a few days," Giulio Gallera, Lombardy's health chief, said during a news conference. "She'd been tested and they already knew she had the coronavirus."

The mounting number of infections has prompted the government to quarantine 11 villages. 

High profile events including fashion shows in Milan, Serie A football matches and the last days of the Venice Carnival have been disrupted, even those well outside the lockdown areas. 

"Virus - Northern Italy under Siege," read Sunday's headline in the Il Fatto Quotidiano daily, as television stations delivered a steady stream of images of masked locals and hospital workers in protective suits. 

In Italy more than 50,000 people in 11 towns have been ordered not to leave their areas, most of them centred around the small town of Codogno, about 70 kilometres southeast of Milan.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Saturday that residents could face weeks of lockdown, enough time for any potential infection to incubate.

In one affected village, Casalpusterlengo, police set up checkpoints to stop all vehicles travelling in both directions on the road that leads to Codogno, a 10 minute drive away.

"We're going to quickly enforce a total blockade," said one police officer. 

The Venice Carnival has been cancelled over concerns for the spread of coronavirus in northern Italy.
The Venice Carnival has been cancelled over concerns for the spread of coronavirus in northern Italy.
AAP

"We're letting people know that if they come in, they won't be able to leave. I have to admit they're taking it pretty well, you can see they were expecting it, that they were prepared in some way."

Earlier in the day, queues formed at local supermarkets as anxious people, many wearing surgical masks, stocked up on provisions, fearing a long period of isolation.

Fears hit Fashion Week

Concern over the spread of infections began to be felt beyond the quarantined areas on Sunday, particularly in Milan, the banking and fashion centre of Italy and the biggest city in the Lombardy region where most cases have been reported. 

Guests attending the Dolce and Gabbana show at Milan Fashion Week arrive in face masks.
Guests attending the Dolce and Gabbana show at Milan Fashion Week arrive in face masks.
AAP

At the city's Fashion Week, which had already seen a sharp drop in Chinese buyers in attendance, top designer Giorgio Armani said his fashion show Sunday night would be guest-free and live-streamed instead.

Milan's storied opera house, La Scala, said its performances were being suspended "in relation to the spread of the coronavirus as a precautionary measure."

And in Venice, the exuberant annual carnival that attracts tourists from all over the world was cancelled from Sunday night, according to the region's president Luca Zaia. It had been scheduled to continue through Tuesday. 

High profile events including fashion shows in Milan, Serie A football matches and the last days of the Venice Carnival have been disrupted from the outbreak.
High profile events including fashion shows in Milan, Serie A football matches and the last days of the Venice Carnival have been disrupted from the outbreak.
AAP

Schools will be closed throughout the Lombardy region for a week, including those in Milan. 

'Really scared'

In Casalpusterlengo, the Lidl grocery store was allowing shoppers to enter in groups of 40.

Although one woman in the crowd downplayed the virus, telling other shoppers it was "not fatal" if properly treated, others were less sanguine. 

"I'm really scared, we're going through a really tough situation," said another woman, Emanuela, a nurse who works in the area.

A policewoman in the affected zone told AFP earlier that teams had been sent in from Bologna, Turin and Genoa to help local law enforcement. 

The quarantine appeared largely dependent on individuals to respect the system but the government said those found in violation could face fines and even three months in jail.

Corona Virus Covid-19 emergency in Codogno closed shops and people with masks In the photo the closed Codogno hospital.
Businesses have closed in Codogno, one of 11 towns in lockdown amid fears of a coronavirus outbreak.
AAP

The government has also said the army was prepared to step in if needed to enforce the perimeter. 

On Sunday, the head of the civil protection department, Angelo Borrelli, said during a news conference that thousands of beds were at the ready in military barracks or hotels to house quarantined or sick individuals, if needed. 

The virus has so far killed more than 2400 people globally, with some 80,000 infected, though China remains by far the worst hit. 

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