Schools, businesses and restaurant were closed in a dozen northern Italian towns Saturday following reports of two deaths tied to an outbreak of the coronavirus in the region.
A female resident in the Lombardy region died only hours after a 77-year-old man succumbed near Padua, in the Veneto region, the ANSA news agency reported, citing health care sources.
Italy reports a total of 62 cases, many of them representing the first infections in the country via secondary contagion, that is, not directly from a visitor to China.
The deaths come a day after health officials at the World Health Organization warned that attempts to contain the virus that erupted in China in December were at a crisis point.
“Although the window of opportunity is narrowing to contain the outbreak, we still have a chance to contain it,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “But while doing that, we have to prepare at the same time for any eventualities, because this outbreak could go any direction – it could even be messy.”
Local authorities in Lombardy and Veneto ordered the lockdown, including the cancellation of sporting events, while the mayor of Milan, the business capital of Italy, shuttered public offices. In Veneto, civil protection crews set up a tent camp outside a closed hospital, where several confirmed cases were being held in isolation, to screen medical staff for the virus.
In hard-hit Codogno, where the first patient in the north to fall ill was in critical condition, the main street was practically a ghost town Saturday. The few people out on the streets wore hard-to-get face masks.
Elsewhere, Iranian health authorities on Saturday reported the country’s sixth death from the virus and 10 new cases, raising the country’s total number of cases to 28. The governor of Markazi province told the official IRNA news agency that tests of a patient who recently died in the central city of Arak were positive for the virus.
In another example of the secondary contagion phenomenon, WHO officials said travelers to the Iranian city of Qom have carried the virus to both Lebanon and Canada.
The COVID-19 coronavirus has killed at least 2,360 people and sickened at least 77,900 worldwide, the majority of cases in mainland China.