Coronavirus: Venice Carnival closes as Italy imposes lockdown


Italian officials have cut short the Venice Carnival as they try to control what is now the worst outbreak of the coronavirus in Europe.

Authorities in the Veneto region said the event would end later on Sunday, two days earlier than scheduled.

Italy has by far the highest number of coronavirus cases in Europe, with 152. Three people have died.

Italy has imposed strict quarantine restrictions in two northern “hotspot” regions close to Milan and Venice.

About 50,000 people cannot enter or leave several towns in Veneto and Lombardy for the next two weeks without special permission. Even outside the zone, many businesses and schools have suspended activities, and sporting events have been cancelled including several top-flight football matches.

The BBC’s Mark Lowen described the situation just outside the zone.

“We’re near the exclusion zone beside , the epicentre of ’s outbreak. Police say if we cross here, we’d need to quarantine and couldn’t leave for some time. A resident told me by phone just one fruit/vegetable shop is open in a town of 16,000 people.”

In neighbouring Austria, a train from Venice was stopped at the Austrian border after it emerged that two passengers had fever symptoms. Austria’s Interior Minister Karl Nehammer later confirmed to the BBC that the pair tested negative for coronavirus.

“All authorities have acted quickly and with great caution in this case,” said Mr Nehammer in a statement. “The reporting chain worked without delay.”

Elsewhere, authorities in South Korea and Iran are battling to control rising numbers of infections. South Korea has raised its coronavirus alert to the “highest level”.

In the UK, four passengers recently returned from quarantine on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan have tested positive for the virus.

The new strain of coronavirus, which originated last year in Hubei province in China, causes a respiratory disease called Covid-19. China has seen more than 76,000 infections and 2,442 deaths.

What is happening in Italy?

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced on Saturday that “extraordinary measures” would come into force to try to stem the rising number of coronavirus cases.

He said the quarantine restrictions could last for weeks.

Police, and if necessary the armed forces, will have the authority to ensure the regulations are enforced.

Angelo Borrelli, the head of Italy’s Civil Protection Department, told reporters that 110 of the confirmed cases were in Lombardy, with 21 in Veneto with others in Emilia-Romagna and Lazio.

Officials reported a third death on Sunday, an elderly woman from the town of Crema suffering from cancer.

Italian officials say they are still trying to trace the source of the outbreak.

The Venice Carnival had been due to close on Tuesday but regional president Luca Zaia told Sky TG24 television on Sunday that it would be suspended, along with other events, in a bid to combat the virus.

“From this evening, we plan to stop carnival and all sporting activities until 1 March,” he said.

Universities in Milan have been closed and the city’s mayor, Giuseppe Sala, said schools would also close their doors while the outbreak continued.

“As a precaution I think that the schools have to be closed in Milan. I will propose to the president of the region to enlarge the precaution to the entire metropolitan city area. It is just a precaution, we don’t want to create panic,” he said.

Colette Walsh, an English teacher living in the town of Lissone, told the BBC that supermarket shelves were empty as people were panic-buying.

“It’s surreal, I have never seen anything like it,” she said.

Meanwhile Giorgio Armani’s fashion show, scheduled to be held in Milan on Sunday, went ahead but without any media or buyers present. The show was livestreamed on its website, Instagram and Facebook pages.

Dolce & Gabbana’s fashion week show went ahead as normal, though, with some guests wearing surgical masks.



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