Italy towns on effective lockdown after virus clusters form

ROME (AP) — A dozen towns in northern Italy were on effective lockdown yesterday after the new virus linked to China claimed a first fatality in Italy and sickened an increasing number of people who had no direct links to the origin of the virus.

The secondary contagions prompted local authorities in towns in Lombardy and Veneto to order schools, businesses and restaurants closed, and to cancel sporting events and Masses.

An initial ordinance penned by the Health Minister imposed an effective lockdown on 10 towns around Lodi, southeast of Milan. But individual cities outside that core cordon area, such as Cremona, issued their own restrictions cancelling school after confirming cases. State-run RAI television reported a 78-year-old man, one of two people in the Veneto region to have been infected, died on Friday. Italian news agencies ANSA and LaPresse also reported the death, citing the Veneto Regional President Luca Zaia.

The numbers of infected were in constant flux, after Lombardy reported an initial quadrupling of cases on Friday bringing Italy’s total to at least 19.

Authorities urged calm, but acknowledged that the clusters were alarming given the people were being infected had no known contact with anyone directly related to China.

The first man to be confirmed as infected had met with someone who returned from China but remains without symptoms.

Separately yesterday, 19 Italians who spent more than two weeks quarantined on a virus-stricken cruise liner in Japan landed at Rome’s military Pratica di Mare airport. They had been stranded on the Diamond Princess since February 5.

Following the first health checks and decontamination process, the passengers were transferred to the military campus of Cecchignola where they will spend a 14-day isolation period.

Personnel carry new beds inside a hospital of Codogno, near Lodi in Northern Italy. PHOTO: AP