Coronavirus: Venice Carnival closes as Italy imposes lockdown

Italian officials have cut short the Venice Carnival as they try to control what is now the worst outbreak of the coronavirus in Europe.

Authorities in the Veneto region said the event would end later on Sunday, two days earlier than scheduled.

Italy has by far the highest number of coronavirus cases in Europe, with 152. Three people have died.

Italy has imposed strict quarantine restrictions in two northern “hotspot” regions close to Milan and Venice.

About 50,000 people cannot enter or leave several towns in Veneto and Lombardy for the next two weeks without special permission. Even outside the zone, many businesses and schools have suspended activities, and sporting events have been cancelled including several top-flight football matches.

The BBC’s Mark Lowen described the situation just outside the zone.

In neighbouring Austria, a train from Venice was stopped at the Austrian border after it emerged that two passengers had fever symptoms. Austria’s Interior Minister Karl Nehammer later confirmed to the BBC that the pair tested negative for coronavirus.

“All authorities have acted quickly and with great caution in this case,” said Mr Nehammer in a statement. “The reporting chain worked without delay.”

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced on Saturday that “extraordinary measures” would come into force to try to stem the rising number of coronavirus cases.

He said the quarantine restrictions could last for weeks.

Police, and if necessary the armed forces, will have the authority to ensure the regulations are enforced.

Angelo Borrelli, the head of Italy’s Civil Protection Department, told reporters that 110 of the confirmed cases were in Lombardy, with 21 in Veneto with others in Emilia-Romagna and Lazio.

Officials reported a third death on Sunday, an elderly woman from the town of Crema suffering from cancer.

Italian officials say they are still trying to trace the source of the outbreak.

The Venice Carnival had been due to close on Tuesday but regional president Luca Zaia told Sky TG24 television on Sunday that it would be suspended, along with other events, in a bid to combat the virus.

“From this evening, we plan to stop carnival and all sporting activities until 1 March,” he said.

Universities in Milan have been closed and the city’s mayor, Giuseppe Sala, said schools would also close their doors while the outbreak continued.

“As a precaution I think that the schools have to be closed in Milan. I will propose to the president of the region to enlarge the precaution to the entire metropolitan city area. It is just a precaution, we don’t want to create panic,” he said.

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