An 84-year-old man has become the fourth person to die in Italy from the corononavirus.
He is reported to have died in the northern Lombardy region, as the number of people contracting the virus continued to mount.
It was the third death in Lombardy, where villages have been put in lockdown and security measures enforced in a bid to stem the spread of the disease, the region’s health department said.
It comes as the country scrambles to halt the spread of Europe’s first major outbreak of coronavirus amid rapidly rising numbers of infections, calling off the popular Venice Carnival and scrapping major league football matches.
Italy now has the largest number of cases of coronavirus outside Asia, with authorities stepping up measures to ban public gatherings.
Concern is also rising in neighbouring Austria, which halted all rail traffic to and from Italy for several hours after suspicion that a train at its southern border with Italy had two passengers possibly infected with the virus on board, authorities said.
Austria’s interior ministry said it had been informed by Italy’s railway company that two passengers had a fever and stopped the train at the Brenner crossing before it could enter Austria.
The decision to call off Venice Carnival was announced by Veneto regional governor Luca Zaia as the number of confirmed virus cases soared to 152, the largest number outside Asia.
Mr Zaia said: ‘The ordinance is immediately operative and will go into effect at midnight.’
The carnival would have run through to Tuesday.
Road blocks were set up in at least some of 10 towns in Lombardy at the epicentre of the outbreak, including in Casalpusterlengo, to keep people from leaving or arriving.
Buses, trains and other forms of public transport – including boats in Venice – were being disinfected, Mr Zaia told reporters.
Museums were also ordered to shut down after Sunday in Venice, a top tourist draw anytime of the year, as well as in neighbouring Lombardy.
Authorities said three people in Venice have tested positive for the viral disease known as Covid-19, all of them in their late 80s and who were taken to hospital in critical condition.
Other northern regions with smaller numbers of cases are Emilia-Romagna and Piedmont.
Italy’s first two cases were a Chinese tourist couple, diagnosed earlier this month and reported recovering in a Rome hospital.
The death on Sunday of an elderly woman, who was already suffering from cancer when she contracted the virus, raised the nation’s death toll to three, said Lombardy regional official Giulio Gallera.
Authorities expressed frustration that they have not been able to track down the source of the virus that is spreading in the north and which surfaced last week when an Italian man in his late 30s in Codogno became critically ill.
‘The health officials haven’t been yet able to pinpoint ‘patient zero’,’ Angelo Borrelli, head of the national Civil Protection agency, told reporters in Rome.
Mr Borrelli said the strategy is to concentrate on closures and other restrictions to try to stem the spread of the virus in the country, which already had taken measures early on in the global virus alarm that included banning direct flights from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau.
Italy has also tested millions of airport passengers arriving from other places for any signs of fever.
In Milan, schools, museums, discos, pubs and cinemas would stay closed for at least seven days.
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