Italy's second coronavirus death sparks fears, lockdowns

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

Italy on Friday became the first country in Europe to report the of one of its own nationals from the virus, triggering a lockdown in about a dozen towns.

A 77-year-old woman died on Saturday near the small town of Codogno in Lombardy in the north, a day after a 78-year-old retired bricklayer succumbed to the virus in the neighbouring region of Veneto.

In Lombardy, health officials confirmed 39 cases of the virus that first emerged in China, with another 12 in Veneto.

"The contagiousness of this virus is very strong and pretty virulent," Lombardy's health chief Giulio Gallera told a press conference on Saturday.

But he cautioned: "Today it's not a pandemic."

- 'Patient number one' -

He said health authorities had identified "patient number one", a 38-year-old man in intensive care in Codogno.

All cases in the region are connected to him, Gallera said, whether medical workers, relatives or friends, he said. The man's wife has also tested positive for the virus.

Italian media have reported that the man dined in January with a friend who had returned from China, but the friend has since tested negative for the virus.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who has called an emergency meeting with the health authorities, expressed his sympathies on Facebook for the deaths and said the government was considering "extraordinary measures" to fight the onslaught of new cases.

More than 50,000 people from about a dozen towns in the two northern regions were asked to stay at home by the local authorities.

Lombardy is a prosperous region best known for its business capital of Milan. Ten communities in the area have now been shuttered as the authorities try to stamp out further infection.

- ' Muffled silence' -

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

One man in the street, who gave his name as Alberto, said there was a "muffled silence" in town.

"I don't have a mask because they ran out in the pharmacy, but I'm taking precautions," said the 68-year-old.

"When I meet someone, I talk to them keeping my distance, or I take the long way around to get home so I don't run into anyone."

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.

"No entry" read the sign outside Codogno's emergency room.

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

The president of Veneto, Luca Zaia, had told RaiNews 24 earlier Saturday that none of those infected with the virus in the region had been in contact with anyone who had recently arrived from China.

Two Chinese tourists are still being treated 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 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. In Veneto, the university will be closed next week, Zaia said.

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