Second coronavirus death sparks fears, lockdown in Italian towns

Two deaths from the new coronavirus sparked fears throughout northern Italy on Saturday, as towns shuttered shops and schools to try to halt a rise in new infections.

Second coronavirus death sparks fears, lockdown in Italian towns

The death of a 75-year-old woman on Saturday near the small town of Codogno in Lombardy came one day after a 78-year-old man succumbed to the virus in the neighbouring region of Veneto, marking the first in Italy and Europe. 

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte expressed his sympathies for the two deaths and said he had called an emergency meeting, as more than 50,000 people from about a dozen towns in two northern regions were asked to stay at home by the local authorities. 

EXPLAINED: How Italy is handling coronavirus outbreak

The government was considering “extraordinary measures” to fight the onslaught of new cases, Conte said on Facebook. Lombardy's health department has scheduled a press conference for later on Saturday.

Sky Italia reported that the number people infected with the virus in the region had grown to 32 from 16, but official confirmation was not immediately available and Italy's health ministry did not return a call from AFP seeking information.

Deserted streets

In Codogno, streets were mostly deserted and few shops were open after the mayor put the town of 15,000 on temporary lockdown on Friday.

A 38-year-old man from the town is in intensive care, and his pregnant wife and another man have also tested positive for the virus.

Three others have tested positive in initial tests, but are awaiting results of a second round. “No entry” read the sign outside Codogno's emergency room.

Only a bakery and a few businesses were open, with many shops posting signs saying they were closed due to the  lockdown, which could last as long as five days.

In the nearby region of Veneto, a 78-year-old retired bricklayer from the Padua area died on Friday, becoming the first local person in Europe to die from what has been named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization.

Italy's health minister said the man, Adriano Trevisan, had been admitted to hospital 10 days earlier for an unrelated health issue.

Two other people in the Veneto region were confirmed with the virus, the president of the Veneto region, Luca Zaia told RaiNews 24 on Saturday, adding that none had been in contact with anyone who had recently arrived from China.

But Sky Italia later said the number of confirmed cases in Veneto had jumped to seven. Two Chinese tourists are still being treated for the virus in isolation in Rome.

A third man who was also quarantined has since recovered, but is still being held at the same hospital, the Spallanzani Institute in Rome.

Since December, COVID-19 has killed more than 2,200 people in China, the epidemic's epicentre.

Elsewhere in the world, it has killed more than a dozen people and spread across some 27 countries and territories.

Last Sunday, an 80-year-old Chinese tourist died from the new coronavirus in France. In the areas under lockdown in northern Italy, public activities such as carnival celebrations, church masses and sporting events have been banned for up to a week.

In the town of Casalpusterlegno, a billboard instructed residents “to stay in your own homes”.

In most towns, bars, restaurants and libraries have been closed, and in the small city of Cremona, about 25 minutes east of Codogno, school has been cancelled.

“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. Around five percent of cases are considered critical.”

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Former Italian PM faces investigation over Covid response

Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte is set to undergo a judicial inquiry over claims his government's response to the Covid-19 outbreak in early 2020 was too slow.

Former Italian PM faces investigation over Covid response

Prosecutors in Bergamo, the northern city that was one of the epicentres of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe, targeted Conte after wrapping up their three-year inquiry, according to media reports.

Conte, now president of the populist Five Star movement, was prime minister from 2018 to 2021 and oversaw the initial measures taken to halt the spread of what would become a global pandemic.

Investigating magistrates suspect that Conte and his government underestimated the contagiousness of Covid-19 even though available data showed that cases were spreading rapidly in Bergamo and the surrounding region.

They note that in early March 2020 the government did not create a “red zone” in two areas hit hardest by the outbreak, Nembro and Alzano Lombardo, even though security forces were ready to isolate the zone from the rest of the country.

READ ALSO: ‘Not offensive’: Italian minister defends Covid testing rule for China arrivals

Red zones had already been decreed in late February for around a dozen other nearby municipalities including Codogno, the town where the initial Covid case was reportedly found.

Conte’s health minister Roberto Speranza as well as the president of the Lombardy region, Attilio Fontana, are also under investigation, the reports said.

Bergamo prosecutors allege that according to scientific experts, earlier quarantines could have saved thousands of lives.

Conte, quoted by Il Corriere della Sera and other media outlets, said he was “unworried” by the inquiry, saying his government had acted “with the utmost commitment and responsibility during one of the most difficult moments of our republic.”

READ ALSO: Italy’s constitutional court upholds Covid vaccine mandate as fines kick in

Similar cases have been lodged against officials elsewhere, alleging that authorities failed to act quickly enough against a virus that has killed an estimated 6.8 million people worldwide since early 2020.

In January, France’s top court threw out a case against former health minister Agnes Buzyn, a trained doctor, over her allegedly “endangering the lives of others” by initially playing down the severity of Covid-19.