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Venice shuts down carnival over coronavirus crisis

February 23, 2020

The annual festival, famous for its elaborate masks, has been canceled as Italy races to contain COVID-19. The news came after a third person died in Italy from the virus.

Italy: Coronavirus Venice
Image: Reuters/M. Silvestri

The last two days of events at the Venice Carnival were canceled on Sunday due to the coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy, the President of the Veneto Region Luca Zaia announced.

The news came as a third person died from the virus on the peninsula as the government struggled to contain an outbreak of the illness in the north of the country, with more than 130 cases reported since Friday.

The regional councilor of Lombardy, Giulio Gallera, said the victim was an elderly woman from the town of Crema, east of Milan, who was also suffering from cancer.

"She had been hospitalized for a few days," said Giulio Gallera, the health chief of the Lombardy region. "She'd been tested and they already knew she had the coronavirus."

The third victim to succumb to the disease came in the wake of two other elderly patients dying in northern Italy over the past 48 hours.

Venice carnival called off

In Venice, authorities shut down the popular carnival celebrations after the total number of infected people in Italy soared to 133. Several northern Italian towns went into lockdown over the weekend.

"We have to adopt drastic measures," Veneto President Zaia told reporters. "As of this evening there will be a ban on the Venice Carnival as well as on all events, sporting as well, until March 1 inclusive," he said. "All private and public gatherings" must be avoided, Zaia said, adding that all schools will also be closed until the end of the month.

Origins remains a mystery

Zaia also said he was concerned that the source of the outbreak in northern Italy has yet to be discovered.

Initial suspicion in the northern region of Lombardy, which has also been hard-hit by the virus, fell on a businessman who recently returned from China, the epicenter of the new virus, but he has since tested negative.

In Veneto, doctors tested a group of eight Chinese visitors who had been to the town with the first Italian fatality, but they all tested negative.

"We are (now) even more worried because if we cannot find 'patient zero' then it means the virus is even more ubiquitous
than we thought," the president of the Veneto Region added.

Zaia, who come April will have been in office for ten years, said the crisis was the "most serious that he ever had to manage."

Outbreak on the rise

The Venice Carnival was still in full swing on Sunday as the announcements were made with tens of thousands of visitors from around the world enjoying the festivities.

Italy Coronavirus Milan
A man stands outside the San Siro stadium after the Inter Milan v Sampdoria match was postponedImage: Reuters/D. Mascolo

Earlier Sunday, the first coronavirus cases were reported in central Venice. Two people aged almost 90 were under intensive care in the lagoon city's hospital. Prior to that, that had been 25 cases reported across the Veneto region.

"I think that from tonight we will take further restrictive measures," said City Mayor Luigi Brugnaro, speaking from St. Mark's Square.

Read more: Opinion: Caution justified when it comes to coronavirus

'We will have more'

Deputy Health Minister Pierpaolo Sileri told SkyTG24 news that the number of COVID-19 cases were likely to increase but that he hoped they would not spread further geographically.

"I expect more cases, " he said. "It's clear that we will have more."

Italian towns on lockdown

In response to the outbreak, the Italian government decided overnight to block access to 10 towns in Lombardy’s Lodi province, about 37 miles (60 km) south-east of Milan, confining tens of thousands of people.

The Lombardy region has reported a total of 89 cases thus far.

Serie A matches postponed

Four Italian top flight soccer matches were postponed because of the outbreak of the coronavirus in the regions of Lombardy and Veneto.

The most high-profile of which was title chasing Inter Milan's match at home to Sampdoria.

Paolo Gentiloni
EU Commissioner for the Economy Paolo Gentiloni speaks to reporters following a meeting of Finance ministers and central bank governors in Saudi ArabiaImage: AFP/F. Nureldine

EU: 'No need to panic'

Venice is one of the most-visited cities in the world with more than 31 million tourists visiting the city last year alone but the European Union were keen to reduce the alarm.

There is "no need to panic" over the recent spate of cases in Italy, the bloc's economic affairs commissioner said.

"The EU has full confidence in the Italian authorities and the decisions they are taking," Paolo Gentiloni told reporters
after a meeting of G20 financial leaders in Saudi Arabia. "We share concern for possible contagion (but) there is no need to panic."

mvb, jsi/aw (AP, dpa, Reuters, AFP)

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