Italy tries to contain virus as neighbors fear its spread

Police are manning checkpoints around sealed-off towns in Italy’s north as authorities seek to contain the virus from China

CODOGNO, Italy —
Police manned checkpoints around quarantined towns in Italy‘s north on Monday as authorities sought to contain the COVID-19 virus that has made Italy the focal point of the outbreak in Europe and fears of its spread.

At least 190 people in Italy’s north have tested positive for the virus and four people have died, including an 84-year-old man who died overnight in Bergamo. But officials still haven’t pinpointed the origin of the contagion, which by Monday had spread to more than a half-dozen regions and prompted Austria to temporarily halt rail traffic across its border with Italy.

Italy’s neighbors Slovenia and Croatia, which are popular destinations for Italian tourists and whose own citizens often travel to Italy, were holding crisis meetings Monday, although neither has reported any cases.

While Italian authorities cancelled soccer matches and closed schools, theater performances and even Venice’s famed Carnival, they also sought to calm fears by noting the virus’ low mortality rate compared to the seasonal flu. The four people who died were all elderly and two of them had other serious ailments.

Speaking on state-run RAI news, virologist Ilaria Capua of the University of Florida noted that Italy’s high number of cases were due to the fact that Italy was “actively seeking them out.” More than 3,000 people have been tested for the virus, most of whom had direct contact with those infected.

“It is likely that the more we look, the more we will find,” Capua said. But she stressed that the majority of cases likely wouldn’t even require a doctor’s visit and that Italy’s numbers are “very analogous to what we will see in many other European countries.”

Italy, however, wasn’t taking chances and effectively sealed off a dozen northern Italian towns where more than 100 of the cases were found. On Monday, police wearing face masks manned checkpoints along the road into Codogno, southeast of Milan, where the first patient to test positive for the virus was hospitalized last week.

Residents wearing face masks and gloves lined up at Codogno’s supermarket to stock up on food, only to find out the market was still closed on orders of the mayor.

The fears even spread to Lombardy’s capital, Milan, Italy’s financial hub, where the final two runway shows of Milan Fashion Week scheduled for Monday were canceled. While most fashion houses held shows as usual Sunday, Giorgio Armani and Laura Biagiotti presented their collections behind closed doors, streaming live for the fashion public.

On Monday, the Lombardy region reported the death of the fourth victim and that it had registered 38 more cases beyond the 152 reported nationwide late Sunday, bringing Italy’s total to at least 190.

Italy’s vice minister for health, Pier Paolo Silveri, said the country was appealing to Italians’ “civic sense” to abide by the containment measures for the two weeks that the northern quarantine has been imposed.


Winfield reported from Rome. Jovana Gec contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.

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