Coronavirus: Italy planning to quarantine entire Lombardy region, as UK cases hit 209 and New York declares emergency

‘We will win this battle if our citizens adopt a responsible attitude and change their way of living,’ civil protection chief says

Vincent Wood
Saturday 07 March 2020 22:16 GMT
Italy imposes quarantine on millions to contain coronavirus

Italy plans to quarantine the entire Lombardy region – an area that includes the nation’s financial hub Milan – as well as Venice, in the most severe escalation of coronavirus-prevention measures to be taken outside of China.

Under a draft decree published by the Italian government, citizens will be unable to leave or enter the Lombardy region, while similar restrictions are extended in established “red zones” including Venice, Parma and Modena.

It came as:

  • The respiratory illness spread to more than 90 countries, killing more than 3,400 people and infecting more than 100,000 worldwide.
  • Cases in the UK rose to 209, with the family of the second person to die in the country after contracting the virus describing self-isolating as they attempted to grieve a “nightmare”
  • Italian doctors warned medics across Europe to “get ready” while claiming a high percentage of cases are being admitted to intensive care
  • A hotel in China used as a quarantine site collapsed with 70 people inside, triggering a complex search and rescue operation
  • New York declared a state of emergency as the number of US cases reached 400 – 76 of which took place in the state
  • A person who attended CPAC, which Donald Trump and Mike Pence also visited, tested positive. Officials said the person had no contact with the president

In its latest update the Italian government announced its largest daily increase in new cases, with 5,883 confirmed to have been infected by Covid-19, up from 4,636 the previous day. So far 589 have fully recovered.

The Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia Romagna regions represented 85 per cent of national cases and 92 per cent of the total 233 deaths confirmed in the country – however, cases have been recorded in each of the nation’s 20 regions, while deaths have been confirmed in eight of them.

The result has also had a knock-on effect on the Italian economy, with Rome pledging €7.5bn (£6.4bn) to tackle the consequences of the virus.

Angelo Borrelli, head of the civil protection agency, said: “We will win this battle if our citizens adopt a responsible attitude and change their way of living.”

In all the areas covered by the decree, including towns in the northern regions of Emilia-Romagna, Veneto and Piedmont, schools will be closed at least until 3 April; all museums, gyms and swimming pools will also be shut; and leave is cancelled for all healthcare workers.

The 11 provinces affected are those around Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Reggio Emilia and Rimini in the region of Emilia-Romagna; Venice, Padua and Treviso in the region of Veneto; Asti and Alessandria in Piedmont; and the province of Pesaro and Urbino in the central region of Marche.

Meanwhile, Italian doctors, facing down the most severe epidemic in the west, have warned Europe to prepare for the virus to strike.

In a letter to the European Society of Intensive Care Medicine, seen by The Independent, critical care experts from the country warned: “We are seeing a high percentage of positive cases being admitted to our intensive care units (ICUs), in the range of 10 per cent of all positive patients. We wish to convey a strong message: Get ready!”

While other hard-hit nations including Iran have also implemented travel restrictions and brought in school closures, the quarantining of an entire region in Italy is possibly the most draconian measure taken outside of China – where the entire Hubei province that became the epicentre of the virus was cordoned off from the rest of the country to slow the virus’s spread.

However, while Beijing’s stringent measures appear to have led to a moment of turnaround for the virus – with more people currently recovered than sick – their quarantine measures turned to a moment of crisis on Saturday after a hotel used to isolate patients collapsed, trapping 70 people inside.

The five-storey building in Fujian province was being used to house and observe people who had come into contact with Covid-19 patients when it collapsed at around 7.30pm local time. Four hours later local officials announced 38 people had been rescued from the wreckage of the Xinjia Express Hotel in Quanzhou.

So far in the UK, 209 cases of the virus have been confirmed and two elderly patients have died after contracting the virus. The family of the second victim, an elderly man, described him as “a truly loving and wonderful person”, while expressing horror at the “nightmare” of having to self-isolate so soon after losing a loved one.

“As he has tested positive, we as a family have been tested and told to self-isolate as a precaution.” they said in a statement.

“This whole nightmare is not something that we or our loved ones asked for. As we are in isolation currently, we cannot arrange for him to be put to rest and, with all the activity that is going around with regards to everyone’s concerns, we cannot grieve him as we would wish to.”

In the US, New York governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency as the total number of infected nationwide hit 400. ”It allows expedited purchasing and expedited hiring, which is what we need right now,” Mr Cuomo told a news conference.

More than half of all US states have reported cases, while an additional two people succumbed to the virus on Saturday – bringing the nationwide death toll to 19.

However, concern over access to tests has led to private firms and government agencies to race to ensure healthcare professionals in the country can adequately assess members of the public.

On Friday, vice president Mike Pence – who has been tasked with leading the nation’s response to the virus – admitted there were not enough tests to meet demand after Donald Trump claimed in a press conference that “anybody that needs a test” could have one.

The head of the US Food and Drug Agency (FDA) has since said materials for 2.1 million coronavirus tests will have been shipped to non-public labs by Monday.​

Stephen Hahn, the FDA commissioner, told reporters at the White House that manufacturers have told the agency they believe that by the end of next week they could scale up to a capacity of 4 million additional tests.

Additional reporting by agencies

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