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LATEST: Number of coronavirus deaths in Italy rises to 12 as confirmed cases reach 400

The number of coronavirus deaths in Italy continued to creep up on Wednesday with the twelfth victim confirmed. The EU has urged people not to panic.

LATEST: Number of coronavirus deaths in Italy rises to 12 as confirmed cases reach 400
Photo: AFP

Italy's 12 death occurred in the central Emilia-Romagna region. The victim was a 70-year-old man from Lombardy, the region most affected by the recent surge in the number of coronavirus cases.

All 12 of those who have died so far in Italy were either elderly or had pre-existing medical conditions.

On Wednesday the EU stressed that the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Europe is concerning but no reason for alarm.
 
“This is a situation of concern but we must not give in to panic,” EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told reporters in Rome after meeting Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza.
 
“We must also be vigilant when it comes to misinformation and disinformation as well as xenophobic statements which are misleading citizens and putting in question the work of public authorities,” she added.

Meanwhile Italy's European neighbours have pledged to keep borders despite the new coronavirus spreading down the country to Tuscany and Sicily and a surge in the number of infected people.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has blamed poor management in a hospital in the country's north for the outbreak.

All 12 of those who have died so far in Italy were either elderly or had pre-existing medical conditions.

But health ministers from Italy's neighbours — meeting in Rome along with the EU's health commissioner — pledged to keep the frontiers open Tuesday. 

They said closing borders would be a “disproportionate and ineffective” measure, even as numbers of infections continue to rise. 

“We're talking about a virus that doesn't respect borders,” said Italy's Health Minister Roberto Speranza.

READ ALSO – MAP: The parts of Italy most affected by coronavirus

His Germany counterpart, Jens Spahn, who was also at the Rome meeting, said they were “taking the situation very, very seriously.

“The coronavirus has reached Europe for the first time in a situation where we don't understand every chain of infection and they can't be connected directly to China.

“This means we have a new situation to deal with. I have said it could get worse before it gets better and this assessment still stands,” he added.

Tuscany reported its first two cases, including one in the tourist destination of Florence, while three emerged in Sicily — including a husband and wife from the worst-hit Lombardy region, where 240 people have tested  positive.

The Liguria region, known as the Italian Riviera, also reported its first case.

READ ALSO: Why has Italy seen a surge in the number of coronavirus cases?

'Rigorous'

Hundreds of people were confined to their rooms in a Tenerife hotel in Spain after an Italian tourist was hospitalised with suspected coronavirus, health officials in the Canary Islands said.

Croatia confirmed the first case in the Balkans region after a young man recently returned from Italy — which lies across the Adriatic from Croatia — was found to have become infected.

Austria also saw its first two cases confirmed on Tuesday in the Tyrol province, which borders Italy.

One was an Italian receptionist working at a hotel in the Alpine city of Innsbruck, which was consequently put under lockdown.

One of the two patients is from Lombardy. Switzerland also reported its first case. 

While borders remain open, several governments have announced additional measures for incoming travellers, in particular from the two northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto.

They range from medical screening to special gates at airports and recommendations to self-isolate.

Conte insisted however that Italy's health protocols were “among the most rigorous.” 

'Mission Impossible'

Wide-ranging measures to halt the spread of the virus have affected tens of thousands of people in the north of Italy, with schools closed and cultural and sporting events cancelled.

Several upcoming football matches in Italian Serie A and the Europa League will be played behind closed doors.

Production of the latest “Mission: Impossible” film starring Tom Cruise in Venice has also been stopped.

The main centre of infection in Italy has been the town of Codogno, a town of some 15,000 people around 60 kilometres (35 miles) to the south of Milan.

Codogno and several other towns in northern Italy have been put under isolation.

The 38-year-old man dubbed “Patient One” by Italian media was admitted to hospital last Wednesday in Codogno, and it is thought a large number of the cases in the worst-hit region of Lombardy can be traced back to him.

His heavily pregnant wife, several doctors, staff and patients at the hospital are thought to have caught the virus from him.

Elsewhere in the country officials have also been recommending precautionary measures, even in areas without known infections.

In Calabria in the south, bishops have asked their worshippers not to make the sign of peace during mass, media reported.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Is the EU likely to reinstate Covid travel restrictions?

A meeting is scheduled for Wednesday in Brussels to discuss the latest Covid situation in China - so could this mark the return of vaccine passports and travel restrictions?

Is the EU likely to reinstate Covid travel restrictions?

Several EU countries including France, Italy and Spain (as well as non-EU countries including the UK and USA) have already imposed travel restrictions on arrivals from China, over fears of new variants of Covid-19.

The countries announced their restrictions – mostly amounting to compulsory tests and masks – on a unilateral basis at the end of last week, but there have been calls for greater co-ordination at an EU level.

There is now a meeting scheduled for Wednesday of the EU Integrated Policy Response Capability to discuss coordinating measures, with an insider telling Politico: “The idea is to harmonise, but without being extremely prescriptive.”

The meeting has been called by Sweden, which now holds the rotating presidency of the EU. 

So what measures are likely?

At present the countries that have announced restrictions have only imposed testing and mask rules – there is no requirement to show proof of vaccination and no travel bans. All measures only apply only to travellers from China.

A meeting of the European Health Safety Committee last Thursday did not produce any concrete measures, with EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides merely urging member states to coordinate quickly. It was after this that some countries announced their own restrictions.

If anything more concrete comes out of Wednesday’s meeting, it is likely to refer to testing or mask rules only and like the previous EU Covid travel policies, will be advisory for countries to follow.

Because borders are a national competence, countries can impose their own measures without having to consult the EU.

Despite the introduction of the EU digital vaccine passport, countries never managed to entirely co-ordinate their travel rules during 2020 and 2021.

In most EU countries the health pass or vaccine pass apps remain active, and could be used again if necessary. 

Will there be travel bans?

At this stage more draconian restrictions – such as the ‘red lists’ or ‘essential travel only’ rules of 2021 seem unlikely.

Most EU countries have a high level of vaccine cover, so would probably only resort to travel restrictions if new variants – against which current Covid vaccines are not effective – emergence in China (or any other country).  

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