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Italy's second virus death sparks fears, lockdowns

2020-02-23 HKT 02:26
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  • A dozen northern Italian towns were on effective lockdown after the coronavirus claimed two lives. Photo: AP
    A dozen northern Italian towns were on effective lockdown after the coronavirus claimed two lives. Photo: AP
Two deaths from the new coronavirus have sparked fears throughout northern Italy, as towns shuttered shops and schools to try to halt a rise in new infections.

Italy on Friday became the first country in Europe to report the death of one of its own nationals from the virus, triggering a lockdown in about a dozen towns.

A 77-year-old woman died on Saturday near the small town of Codogno in Lombardy in the north, a day after a 78-year-old retired bricklayer succumbed to the virus in the neighbouring region of Veneto.

In Lombardy, health officials confirmed 39 cases of the virus that first emerged in China, with another 12 in Veneto.

"The contagiousness of this virus is very strong and pretty virulent," Lombardy's health chief Giulio Gallera told a press conference on Saturday. But he cautioned: "Today it's not a pandemic."

He said health authorities had identified "patient number one", a 38-year-old man in intensive care in Codogno.

All cases in the region are connected to him, Gallera said, whether medical workers, relatives or friends, he said. The man's wife has also tested positive for the virus.

Italian media have reported that the man dined in January with a friend who had returned from China, but the friend has since tested negative for the virus.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who has called an emergency meeting with the health authorities, expressed his sympathies on Facebook for the deaths and said the government was considering "extraordinary measures" to fight the onslaught of new cases.

More than 50,000 people from about a dozen towns in the two northern regions were asked to stay at home by the local authorities. (AFP)