Italy was due Tuesday to host a summit of health ministers from neighbouring countries to discuss a coordinated response to the coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy.

Talks will involve health ministers from Austria, France, Slovenia, Switzerland, as well as from Germany and Croatia, the Italian Health Ministry said in a statement.

The German Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Monday that the virus is not stopped by land borders.

Asked whether it would be possible to close off entire cities or towns, as Italy has done in the northern Lombardy and Veneto regions, he said that this was a theoretical option but not necessary at this stage.

‘There are many intermediate stages from cancelling large events (...) to the complete closure of entire cities,’ he said.

Since two virus clusters developed last week in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto, Italy has reported seven deaths and more than 220 contagions.

The situation has raised concern in the rest of Europe, and fuelled talk about possible border controls on Italy's borders to limit the contagion.

Late on Sunday, Austria briefly blocked incoming rail traffic from Italy after two suspected cases were detected on a Venice-Munich train. They tested negative for the novel coronavirus.

Italy's government has insisted that suspending Europe's free-travel Schengen rules in response to its public health crisis would be the wrong response.

In Lombardy and Veneto, authorities have taken more draconian virus containment measures, such as sealing off about a dozen towns linked to the outbreak, isolating more than 50,000 people.

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