Police manned checkpoints around quarantined towns in Italy’s north on Monday and residents stocked up on food as the country became the focal point of the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe and fears of its cross-border spread.
Italians travelling abroad were already feeling the effects of a crackdown, with a bus from Milan barricaded by police in the French city of Lyon for health checks and Alitalia passengers arriving in Mauritius threatened with quarantine.
Civil protection officials said 219 people had tested positive for the virus in Italy and five people had died, including two elderly men in northern Lombardy. It is the highest number of cases outside Asia, and underscores the limits of Italy’s prevention protocols, which are the most stringent in Europe.
Officials still hadn’t pinpointed the origin of Italy’s outbreak and were struggling to contain the number of cases, which by Monday had spread to a half-dozen regions and prompted Austria to temporarily halt rail traffic across its border with Italy.
“These rapid developments over the weekend have shown how quickly this situation can change,” EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said in Brussels. “We need to take this situation of course very seriously, but we must not give in to panic, and, even more importantly, to disinformation.”
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