Coronavirus: Italy hunts coronavirus superspreader as 'seventh person dies' of COVID-19

·6-min read

A seventh person has died from coronavirus in Italy, according to media reports, as the total number of cases in the country soars to more than 200.

A dozen towns are in lockdown as authorities race to contain the biggest outbreak of coronavirus in Europe, which has prompted Austria to assemble a special taskforce to consider border controls.

There have been five confirmed deaths over the past two days from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, the latest of whom was 88 years old and from the northern Lombardy region.

At least three of the victims had been suffering serious underlying health problems.

The reported sixth and seventh victims have not been confirmed by the Italian authorities.

In developments elsewhere:

On Sunday evening, Austria refused entry to a train coming from Italy after the Italian State Railways informed Austrian train operator OBB that there were two people with fever symptoms on board.

"Tonight a train on its way from Venice to Munich was stopped at the Austrian border," Austria's interior ministry earlier confirmed.

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The operator later confirmed to Sky News that all train traffic to and from Italy had been suspended - but the suspension was lifted after a few hours.

Concern has also been expressed by French director of health Jerome Salomon, who said the situation was "worrying" and warned of further cases in France because of its proximity to Italy.

He told France Info radio station that "anyone returning from Lombardy or Veneto with symptoms must be considered suspicious", but said there were not yet any plans for border controls.

However, officials did intercept a coach from Milan to Lyon over concerns one Italian on board might have the virus, having displayed flu-like symptoms.

Police put up a security cordon around the bus and moved the passengers into an area of Lyon Perrache bus station, where they were isolated from other travellers, and the person showing symptoms was taken to hospital.

Germany has said it is not considering border closures.

Lombardy and Veneto, both in the north of Italy, have ordered schools and universities to close for at least a week, while museums and cinemas have been shut and the last two days of the Venice Carnival called off.

Sky Italia reporter Tonia Cartolano, reporting from Codogno, just south of Milan, said the situation was "really serious" but that authorities were working well to prevent the virus from spreading.

"The response of the government has been fast," she said.

"We are trying to contain the virus and I'm sure we are doing it in the right way."

Italian authorities have been reporting their own case numbers and the country's death toll, creating potential discrepancies with the worldwide statistics being compiled by experts at Johns Hopkins.

Johns Hopkins has been updating its global tally on a daily basis, but Italy has joined other governments in reporting their own figures.

Meanwhile, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), said the global spread of the virus was not "uncontained".

"Using the word pandemic doesn't fit the facts. We must focus on containment while preparing for a potential pandemic," he added.

Despite the measures being put in place in Italy, other governments have advised against travel to affected regions.

The Irish foreign ministry updated its travel advice website on Monday, saying: "There has been an increase in the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Italy... Citizens are advised not to travel to affected areas."

The UK government has not yet issued any specific advice about the situation in Italy.

The first Italian fatality from the virus this weekend was a 78-year-old former construction company owner, who died in Padua in the Veneto region.

A second patient - a 77-year-old woman - died hours later in Lombardy, while another woman with the virus in the region died on Sunday.

The fourth victim was an 84-year-old man from Bergamo, according to Sky News Italia.

The regional governor of Veneto, Luca Zaia, said he had dealt with several natural disasters during his career, including floods and earthquakes, but "this is the absolutely worst problem that Veneto has faced".

Almost a dozen towns in Lombardy and Veneto, with a combined population of about 50,000 people, have effectively been placed under quarantine.

Residents have been urged to stay home and special permission is needed to enter or leave the designated areas.

Four Serie A football matches were postponed in the wake of the virus outbreak, while the Women's Six Nations match between Italy and Scotland was cancelled.

Serie A president Paolo Dal Pino has asked the government if other upcoming matches in affected regions can be played behind closed doors rather than suspended.

He said the fixture calendar was "already saturated with commitments" and that the league had to end by 24 May as planned due to this summer's European Championships.

The biggest jump in cases of COVID-19 has been reported by authorities in Lombardy, which includes the country's financial capital Milan, with 90 cases confirmed.

Authorities have expressed frustration they have not been able to track down the source of the virus spread in the north of Italy, possibly by a so-called superspreader.

It surfaced in the region last week when an Italian man in his late 30s in Codogno became critically ill.

"The health officials haven't been able to pinpoint Patient Zero,'' Angelo Borrelli, head of the 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 people who live in town and who frequent the same cafe visited by the stricken man.

But Lombardy governor Attilio Fontana told reporters all of those Chinese people had tested negative.

Some reports from Italy say Patient Zero may have been identified as a 60-year-old man from the Vicenza area, who has been in Codogno and other centres in the Lodi area.

Such is the concern surrounding the Italian outbreak, Mauritius has blocked some visitors from the country.

An Alitalia plane landed in Mauritius on Monday but some passengers and crew opted to return straight home, after being told they would have to go into quarantine because of local concerns over the virus, the airline said.

Some 224 passengers and crew had been aboard the flight from Rome to the Indian Ocean island, but 40 people from the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto decided to go back.

Following the developments in Italy, the European Commission has announced a €232m (£195m) aid package to help member states and the global effort to tackle the outbreak.

While most cases and fatalities are still being reported in China, other countries have continued to step up their precautionary measures - with about 380 foreigners having been quarantined in North Korea.

Diplomatic staff are not being allowed out of their compounds in the reclusive state or to leave the country - including the British embassy, Sky News understands.

And another 70 more cases have been confirmed in South Korea, bringing the total number there to 833.

More than 2,470 people have been killed by the coronavirus outbreak, most of them in China.

There have been more than 79,000 suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with China revealing on Monday that more than 3,000 of those were members of its medical staff.

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