People wearing respiratory masks walk in a street of the Chinese district of Milan on Feb 25, 2020. (MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP)
PALERMO/ROME/MADRID/MILAN - Italian authorities on Tuesday reported a woman had tested positive for coronavirus in Sicily, the first case south of Rome, as the country battles to prevent the outbreak spreading from its origin in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto.
The number of cases in Italy, the country in Europe worst affected, rose to more than 260 overnight from 229 on Monday, with 34 new cases reported in Lombardy and six new ones in Veneto
Sicily’s regional governor Nello Musumeci said a tourist from Bergamo, in Lombardy, had been hospitalized in the island’s capital Palermo after being diagnosed with the illness and all those traveling with her had been quarantined.
The number of cases in Italy, the country in Europe worst affected, rose to more than 260 overnight from 229 on Monday, with 34 new cases reported in Lombardy and six new ones in Veneto. The number of deaths was unchanged at seven.
EU institutions have ordered staff who travelled to areas of northern Italy to stay at home for two weeks, a measure that may be repeated by member states as concerns mount over the epidemic in Europe.
Also on Tuesday, two senior magistrates said authorities had opened a probe into skyrocketing online prices for hygienic masks and sanitizing gels following the coronavirus outbreak.
“We have decided to open an investigation after media reports of the insane prices fetched up by these products on online sales websites in the last two days,” Milan deputy chief prosecutor Tiziana Siciliano told Reuters.
Many pharmacists say they have run out of hygienic masks and hand sanitizers and many people have turned to online sites where prices have shot up.
“The price of masks online has risen from one cent to 10 euros each and a one liter bottle of disinfectant that last week was on sale for 7 euros, was up to 39 euros yesterday,” Siciliano said.
As the emergency has spread, police have also issued warnings that criminals posing as health inspectors have been using false identity papers to try to gain access to people’s houses to steal money or other valuables.
The health emergency had yielded a fragile political truce between Italy’s warring parties which collapsed late on Monday after Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte suggested malpractice at a hospital in Lombardy may have fueled the outbreak.
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Conte said the hospital, which he did not name, had not followed the correct protocol “and this contributed to the spread”, adding that he may consider withdrawing some of the powers of the regions over health policy.
The right-wing, opposition League party, which runs both Lombardy and Veneto, reacted furiously.
Its lower-house speaker Riccardo Molinari said Conte’s words were “almost fascist” while the League’s economics spokesman Claudio Borghi called the premier “a disgrace to the country”.
Lombardy’s Governor Attilio Fontana accused Conte of a “desperation strategy ...probably trying to attack others to distract attention (from himself).”
Officials from the World Health Organization and the European Union were due to meet in Rome on Tuesday to discuss the crisis.
As economists warned that the outbreak in Italy would probably tip its already stagnant economy into recession, a senior official said the government may need to call on the European Union to offer leeway on its budget targets.
“There are resources the EU can give us in relation to economic events that could lower GDP considerably,” Deputy Economy Minister Laura Castelli said in a radio interview with state channel RAI.
Italy has proportionally the highest public debt in the euro zone after Greece’s and has long struggled to respect the bloc’s strict borrowing rules. Conte warned on Monday that the fallout from the outbreak could be “very strong”.
Lombardy, the northern region that includes the financial capital Milan, and Veneto together account for about a third of Italy’s gross domestic product and half of its exports.
Even before the outbreak of the virus, which triggered a fall of more than 5% on the Milan bourse on Monday, Italy was teetering on the edge of recession, after gross domestic product (GDP) fell 0.3% in the fourth quarter of 2019.
The tourist industry, which accounts for about 13% of GDP, fears a plunge in bookings as the government has ordered a clampdown on public events including soccer matches, cinemas and theaters.
A planned three-week shoot in Italy for Tom Cruise’s new film “Mission: Impossible” was also postponed.
Milan cathedral was closed to visitors, the Venice carnival, one of the world’s premier tourist attractions, was shut early for the first time in decades and airlines began restricting flights to Italy.
Spanish authorities isolated about 1,000 guests and workers at a seaside hotel on the Canary island of Tenerife after an Italian tourist there initially tested positive for the coronavirus
UK authorities on Tuesday advised British people who had visited northern Italy to self-isolate if they had any flu-like symptoms.
The outbreak of the disease over the weekend triggered alarm in Milan, bringing a drop in the number of people in public places and prompting shoppers to stock up on basics.
Esselunga, one of the biggest supermarket chains in northern Italy, said it was capable of keeping branches fully stocked and that shoppers had no need to buy any more than normal.
Hotel on lockdown
Spanish authorities isolated about 1,000 guests and workers at a seaside hotel on the Canary island of Tenerife after an Italian tourist there initially tested positive for the coronavirus.
Employees and lodgers won’t be allowed to enter or leave the H10 Costa Adeje Palace until there is definitive confirmation on whether the tourist staying at the hotel is infected, an official from the Canary Islands government confirmed by phone. The people are held in preventive isolation, not under a formal quarantine, the person said.
People at the hotel are being tested for symptoms of the virus, according to a statement by the islands’ healthcare department that said further action will be decided later on Tuesday. That’s when the results are due of a final test that will confirm or dismiss whether the patient is infected.
The Italian is now held in isolation at the Hospital Universitario Nuestra Senora de La Candelaria in Tenerife, and two more people are in observation, according to the healthcare department. Spain so far has reported only two confirmed cases of coronavirus. Each of them recovered from the illness. The tourist is a doctor from Lombardy, a region of northern Italy that is a focus of an outbreak of the virus, Efe news service reported.
Authorities in Tenerife activated the coronavirus protocol on Feb 24 when a local hospital confirmed the Italian citizen tested positive in an initial exam. Hotel owner H10 said in a statement it’s collaborating closely with health authorities and has implemented all recommended measures to ensure the safety of clients and employees.
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Croatia reported its first case of novel coronavirus on Tuesday. Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said the patient, a younger man, was feeling well and was being treated at a hospital in Zagreb. The country’s Health Minister Vili Beros said the patient was in Milan between the Feb 19 and 21, adding that those who had been in direct contact with him would be place under quarantine.
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