Italy reported a major increase in new coronavirus cases yesterday, with 322 infected and 11 dead, as contagion also spread in Austria, Croatia, Spain and Switzerland.
Compared to figures from late on Monday, Italian cases jumped by 40%.
There were four new deaths.
The latest victims were two men and two women, all elderly, the Civil Protection Agency said.
The outbreak remained concentrated in northern Italy, with 240 cases in Lombardy, 43 in Veneto, 26 in Emilia-Romagna, and three in Piedmont.
Other regions reported cases for the first time.
Three were confirmed in Palermo, Sicily – the first in southern Italy – two in Tuscany, one in Liguria in the northeast, and one in German-speaking South Tyrol near Austria.
But the virus spread beyond Italy, just as health ministers from France, Germany, Switzerland, Slovenia and Croatia gathered in Rome to discuss a co-ordinated response with Italian authorities.
Austria confirmed its first two cases: a 24-year-old woman and her boyfriend, both from Lombardy.
They have been isolated in a clinic in Innsbruck, but no longer run fevers, local health authorities said.
However, the woman’s home and the hotel she worked at have been cordoned off.
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic also confirmed the country’s first coronavirus case, state broadcaster HRT reported.
He was described as a young man who visited Milan last week.
Another first case was reported in Switzerland, where the national health authority said a person tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Yesterday also saw the first case in mainland Spain as the health ministry announced that a woman in Barcelona who recently returned from northern Italy had tested positive for the virus.
Earlier that day, in Tenerife, one of the Spanish Canary Islands, a hotel with 1,000 guests was placed under quarantine, after the virus was found in an Italian guest from Lombardy.
Police were guarding the hotel in Adeje, in the southwest, until everyone staying there has been tested, according to newspaper El Mundo.
A hotel guest who spoke to DPA said the situation was tolerable, but that a lack of information was maddening.
“We’re not getting any information from the hotel, and we haven’t seen a doctor either,” said Lars Winkler, a German tourist who had already been at the hotel for 13 days.
In Rome, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he is confident that draconian containment measures enforced around the two virus clusters in Lombardy and Veneto would prove effective.
“We trust that we can quickly achieve a result of containment of the contagion from the coronavirus,” Conte told reporters, speaking of “a health emergency that must anyway be tackled rationally”.
Late on Monday, the premier blamed the spread of the virus on the “not entirely proper conduct” of a hospital, presumably in Lombardy.
The comment caused frictions with local authorities in the region.
An expert from Italy’s National Health Institute (ISS), Giovanni Rezza, said that the virus “circulated for a week or two” before the first infection from the current crisis was discovered on February 20.
Rezza, who heads the ISS’s infectious diseases unit, also said that Italy had a higher mortality rate from Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, “of 2-3%”, because of its ageing population.
In Lombardy and Veneto, authorities have isolated about 50,000 people living in 11 towns associated with Italy’s two virus clusters, using police army units to block access to the areas.
Meanwhile, several countries have started restricting arrivals from Italy, but Conte criticised such measures and insisted that his country remained safe for foreign visitors.
The ministerial meeting in Rome ended with a joint declaration ruling out border closures with Italy, described as “a disproportionate and ineffective measure at this time”.
“We are agreed in our opinion that, at this point, travel restrictions, or even the shuttering or borders, would not be a measured or appropriate reaction,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn said.
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.
More talks were scheduled in Rome today, involving the European Commission, the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza is due to meet EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, WHO Europe regional director Hans Kluge, and ECDC director Andrea Ammon, his office said.
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