Six people have tested positive for the virus in the town of Codogno, which has a population of 15,000, some 60 kilomtres from Milan in the region of Lombardy.
Three of those have fallen ill – including the most serious, a 38-year-old man in intensive care – while the other three tested positive in a first test and are awaiting results of a second.
There are unconfirmed reports in Italian media that up to 14 people in total have tested positive for the virus in Lombardy, and two further cases in the Veneto region. Six cases remain confirmed by authorities at the time of writing.
Codogno Mayor Francesco Passerini issued a decree on Friday ordering the immediate closure of schools, municipal offices, stores selling food, bars, discos, and sports facilities.
About 80 venues will be affected. The order could last between 48 hours to five days.
Local authorities have advised residents to stay at home and avoid social activities as a precaution.
Discovery of the cases “has created a situation of alarm throughout the municipality,” Passerini said.
It has not been confirmed by health authorities how transmission of the virus occurred, however it appears from initial reports to be the first human-to-human transmission of the virus in Italy.
The man in intensive care dined earlier this month with another man who had visited China in January. He exhibited flu-like symptoms at the time of the dinner, but has since tested negative for the virus, media reports said.
The pregnant wife of the man in intensive care and a friend of his with whom he played sports are the other two confirmed cases.
Around 250 people are now reportedly being tested for the virus in the area, italian media reports.
The six patients in Lombardy bring the total number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Italy to nine.
Two Chinese tourists, from the virus epicentre of Wuhan, tested positive in central Rome in late January, and one Italian who returned from the Chinese city on a special evacuation flight repatriating 56 Italian nationals also tested positive for the virus a week later.
According to the WHO, more than 80 percent of patients infected with the virus have mild disease and recover, while 14 percent have severe diseases such as pneumonia.