World reaches coronavirus ‘tipping point’ as three deaths spark panic in Italy

Italy has today announced its fourth death from coronavirus as the country imposes drastic security measures to contain the first major outbreak in Europe. 

The 84-year-old man was confirmed dead today in Lombardy in northern Italy, where 50,000 people have been placed under lockdown, schools have been shut and bars and restaurants have been ordered to close.

The man died in Bergamo after he was taken to hospital with an unrelated illness but was later found to have the coronavirus, Italian media said. 

The outbreak has sparked fears that tourists returning from Italy could send the epidemic spiralling across Europe, with many Britons returning to school and work after the half-term break today. 

The country has confirmed more than 160 cases of the virus, by far the largest number outside Asia.  

The wealthy Lombardy region which includes Milan is the worst-affected region, while 22 people have been infected in neighbouring Veneto which includes Venice.  

As the panic spread last night, Austria halted trains from crossing the Alps into Italy after two German women reported a fever on board, although they later tested negative.  

Authorities in Lombardy and Veneto have banned public events including Masses, while Milan’s famous cathedral has been closed to visitors. 

The spread of the virus has also forced the stoppage of high-profile events including the Venice Carnival, Milan Fashion Week and Serie A football fixtures.   

After Italy recorded its first death on Friday, the director general of the World Health Organisation Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke of a narrowing ‘window of opportunity.’ 

Sharp rises in Italy, Iran and South Korea have brought this window into stark focus as the global infection toll soared to 79,565 today, including more than 2,600 deaths. 

South Korea today reported another surge in cases, with another 161 patients diagnosed – most of them linked to the secretive religious sect at the centre of the outbreak – bringing the total to 763 of whom seven have died. 

The country has also postponed the start of the new football season, with all K-League fixtures pushed back after officials said the outbreak had ‘entered a serious phase’. 

Elsewhere, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Bahrain have today confirmed their first virus cases, with all three countries saying their first patients had recently returned from Iran.  

Masked Italian soldiers stand outside the Duomo cathedral in Milan, which has been closed over coronavirus fears

Masked Italian soldiers stand outside the Duomo cathedral in Milan, which has been closed over coronavirus fears

Masked Italian soldiers stand outside the Duomo cathedral in Milan, which has been closed over coronavirus fears 

Italian armed personnel talk to drivers near the small town of Casalpusterlengo where one of the virus patients died

Italian armed personnel talk to drivers near the small town of Casalpusterlengo where one of the virus patients died

Italian armed personnel talk to drivers near the small town of Casalpusterlengo where one of the virus patients died 

ITALY - AUSTRIA BORDER: A train stopped by authorities stands on the tracks at the train station on the Italian side of the Brenner Pass on Sunday with 300 passengers on board after two complained of flu-like symptoms. The train was later given the all clear

ITALY - AUSTRIA BORDER: A train stopped by authorities stands on the tracks at the train station on the Italian side of the Brenner Pass on Sunday with 300 passengers on board after two complained of flu-like symptoms. The train was later given the all clear

ITALY – AUSTRIA BORDER: A train stopped by authorities stands on the tracks at the train station on the Italian side of the Brenner Pass on Sunday with 300 passengers on board after two complained of flu-like symptoms. The train was later given the all clear

Italy has confirmed four deaths (their locations are shown on a map above) with the region of Lombardy (marked in red) the worst-affected area of the country

Italy has confirmed four deaths (their locations are shown on a map above) with the region of Lombardy (marked in red) the worst-affected area of the country

Italy has confirmed four deaths (their locations are shown on a map above) with the region of Lombardy (marked in red) the worst-affected area of the country 

UNITED KINGDOM: 30 Britons and two Irish citizens arrived back in Britain on Saturday night (pictured) and were taken for quarantine at Arrowe Park hospital on the Wirral. Four were diagnosed with the virus and rushed to other hospitals

UNITED KINGDOM: 30 Britons and two Irish citizens arrived back in Britain on Saturday night (pictured) and were taken for quarantine at Arrowe Park hospital on the Wirral. Four were diagnosed with the virus and rushed to other hospitals

UNITED KINGDOM: 30 Britons and two Irish citizens arrived back in Britain on Saturday night (pictured) and were taken for quarantine at Arrowe Park hospital on the Wirral. Four were diagnosed with the virus and rushed to other hospitals

ITALY: A policeman wearing a sanitary masks gestures next to a reveller in Venice as authorities called off the annual carnival

ITALY: A policeman wearing a sanitary masks gestures next to a reveller in Venice as authorities called off the annual carnival

ITALY: A policeman wearing a sanitary masks gestures next to a reveller in Venice as authorities called off the annual carnival

JAPAN: Sumo wrestlers wearing face masks are seen on arrival at Shin Osaka Station ahead of the Grand Sumo Spring Tournament on Sunday

JAPAN: Sumo wrestlers wearing face masks are seen on arrival at Shin Osaka Station ahead of the Grand Sumo Spring Tournament on Sunday

JAPAN: Sumo wrestlers wearing face masks are seen on arrival at Shin Osaka Station ahead of the Grand Sumo Spring Tournament on Sunday

A map showing the latest numbers of coronavirus cases around the world. Cases have surged in South Korea in recent days

A map showing the latest numbers of coronavirus cases around the world. Cases have surged in South Korea in recent days

A map showing the latest numbers of coronavirus cases around the world. Cases have surged in South Korea in recent days

On Saturday night, four Britons evacuated from the coronavirus-stricken Diamond Princess tested positive for the illness after 32 passengers from the cruise liner held in Japan arrived for quarantine at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral.

Two of the patients are in the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield, one is in the Royal Liverpool University Hospital and a fourth was taken to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle. 

While the European Union urged there was ‘no need to panic’, health experts warned that in the last 24 hours the world has been brought to the brink.

Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said: ‘The director general of the WHO has recently spoken of a narrowing of the window of opportunity to control the current epidemic. The tipping point after which our ability to prevent a global pandemic ends seems a lot closer after the past 24 hours.’

He noted that despite numbers declining in China, where the outbreak began in December, the weekend’s developments were ‘extremely concerning.’  

Of South Korea’s 161 new cases, 129 were related to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a secretive sect based in Daegu which is widely regarded as a cult. 

Officials are also investigating a possible link between churchgoers and a spike in infections at a hospital in nearby Cheongdo.

Five of South Korea’s seven virus deaths have been linked to the hospital in Cheongdo, where a slew of infections were confirmed among patients in a mental ward. 

Officials have voiced hope that they they can contain the outbreak in Daegu, but there are also signs of the virus spreading across the country, including a number of cases in the capital Seoul.  

Health minister Kim Gang-lip said that health officials plan to test all of Daegu’s residents exhibiting cold-like symptoms, which he said would be about 28,000 people. 

‘In Daegu, the number of new cases that are being confirmed by tests is quite large, and if we fail to effectively stem community transmissions in this area, there would be a large possibility [that it] spreads nationwide,’ he said.

The national government has shuttered schools, cancelled events, and asked companies to scatter working hours and keep employees at home if they experience coughs or other respiratory symptoms.  

Seoul’s mayor Park Won-soon has also scattered the working hours of some 40,000 city employees to ease transit congestion and warned of sterner action against protesters who defied a ban on rallies.  

SOUTH KOREA: Workers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant at a market in the southeastern city of Daegu. South Korea reported two additional deaths from coronavirus and 123 more cases on February 23, with nearly two thirds of the new patients connected to a religious sect. The national toll of 763 cases is now the second-highest outside of China, with seven dead

SOUTH KOREA: Workers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant at a market in the southeastern city of Daegu. South Korea reported two additional deaths from coronavirus and 123 more cases on February 23, with nearly two thirds of the new patients connected to a religious sect. The national toll of 763 cases is now the second-highest outside of China, with seven dead

SOUTH KOREA: Workers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant at a market in the southeastern city of Daegu. South Korea reported two additional deaths from coronavirus and 123 more cases on February 23, with nearly two thirds of the new patients connected to a religious sect. The national toll of 763 cases is now the second-highest outside of China, with seven dead

There have also been growing virus fears in Italy, which placed 50,000 residents on lock down yesterday, called off the Venice Carnival and postponed top-flight football matches as it sought to contain the rampant disease. 

Virus panic crept onto catwalks in Italy, leading to the cancellation of some runway shows at Milan Fashion Week. Others were held behind closed doors and livestreamed.

Most cases are confined to the northern town of Codogno, about 43 miles southeast of Milan. 

Neighbouring Slovenia asked vacationers returning from ski resorts in northern Italy to be particularly vigilant for symptoms.

Italy became the first European country to report one of its nationals died from the virus on Friday.

Two more fatalities came over the weekend but Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte urged people ‘not to give in to panic’, and asked them to follow the advice of health authorities. 

Last night Austria held up a train carrying around 300 people in the Brenner Pass, which crosses Alps from Austria to Italy. 

The train was halted amid panic over two passengers who had flu-like symptoms, but was later given the all-clear after they tested negative.  

Dr Robin Thompson, junior research fellow in mathematical epidemiology at the University of Oxford, told The Guardian: ‘This is an important stage of the coronavirus outbreak …  Fast isolation of even mild cases in affected areas is important for preventing substantial person-to-person transmission in Europe.

‘It is critical that public health guidelines are followed.’ 

An ambulance and police are seen as coaches containing British Diamond Princess evacuees arrive at Arrowe Park Hospital on Saturday night. four Britons evacuated from the coronavirus-stricken vessel tested positive for the illness after 32 passengers from the ship held in Japan arrived in quarantine at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral.

An ambulance and police are seen as coaches containing British Diamond Princess evacuees arrive at Arrowe Park Hospital on Saturday night. four Britons evacuated from the coronavirus-stricken vessel tested positive for the illness after 32 passengers from the ship held in Japan arrived in quarantine at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral.

An ambulance and police are seen as coaches containing British Diamond Princess evacuees arrive at Arrowe Park Hospital on Saturday night. four Britons evacuated from the coronavirus-stricken vessel tested positive for the illness after 32 passengers from the ship held in Japan arrived in quarantine at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral.

Director-General of the WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke of a narrowing 'window of opportunity' on Friday

Director-General of the WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke of a narrowing 'window of opportunity' on Friday

Director-General of the WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke of a narrowing ‘window of opportunity’ on Friday

A view of the stopped train at the Brenner railway station at the border between Tyrol, Austria, and South Tyrol, Italy, seen from the Austrian side on Sunday night

A view of the stopped train at the Brenner railway station at the border between Tyrol, Austria, and South Tyrol, Italy, seen from the Austrian side on Sunday night

A view of the stopped train at the Brenner railway station at the border between Tyrol, Austria, and South Tyrol, Italy, seen from the Austrian side on Sunday night

A police officer wearing a protective face mask stands next to a masked carnival reveller at Venice Carnival, with the last two days, as well as Sunday night's festivities, cancelled because of coronavirus. As Italy recorded three deaths, the director general of the World Health Organisation Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke of a narrowing 'window of opportunity.'

A police officer wearing a protective face mask stands next to a masked carnival reveller at Venice Carnival, with the last two days, as well as Sunday night's festivities, cancelled because of coronavirus. As Italy recorded three deaths, the director general of the World Health Organisation Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke of a narrowing 'window of opportunity.'

A police officer wearing a protective face mask stands next to a masked carnival reveller at Venice Carnival, with the last two days, as well as Sunday night’s festivities, cancelled because of coronavirus. As Italy recorded three deaths, the director general of the World Health Organisation Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke of a narrowing ‘window of opportunity.’

Sumo wrestlers wearing face masks are seen on arrival at Shin Osaka Station ahead of the Grand Sumo Spring Tournament on Sunday

Sumo wrestlers wearing face masks are seen on arrival at Shin Osaka Station ahead of the Grand Sumo Spring Tournament on Sunday

Sumo wrestlers wearing face masks are seen on arrival at Shin Osaka Station ahead of the Grand Sumo Spring Tournament on Sunday

Sumo wrestlers wearing face masks arrive at the JR Shin-Osaka train station on Sunday night

Sumo wrestlers wearing face masks arrive at the JR Shin-Osaka train station on Sunday night

Sumo wrestlers wearing face masks arrive at the JR Shin-Osaka train station on Sunday night

Iran’s confirmed death toll yesterday rose to eight, prompting travel bans from neighbouring countries. 

Bahrain and Kuwait both revealed their first cases of the virus today, with both countries saying that the patients had recently entered from Iran.  

Along with Italy, Iran has begun introducing the sort of containment measures previously seen only in China, which has put tens of millions of people under lockdown in Hubei province, the outbreak’s epicentre. 

On Sunday, China’s President Xi Jinping called the epidemic the ‘largest public health emergency’ in the country’s history.  

‘This is a crisis for us and it is a big test,’ Xi said during remarks carried by state television.

In a rare admission, at a meeting to coordinate the fight against the virus, Xi added that China must learn from ‘obvious shortcomings exposed’ during its response.

The WHO has praised Beijing for its handling of the epidemic, but China has been criticised at home for silencing early warnings from a whistleblower doctor who later died from the virus. 

The second patient to die was an elderly woman whose death has triggered the closing down of shops, offices and community centres in Casalpusterlengo, according to Italian news agency Ansa. Pictured are medical workers outside a hospital in Padua

The second patient to die was an elderly woman whose death has triggered the closing down of shops, offices and community centres in Casalpusterlengo, according to Italian news agency Ansa. Pictured are medical workers outside a hospital in Padua

The second patient to die was an elderly woman whose death has triggered the closing down of shops, offices and community centres in Casalpusterlengo, according to Italian news agency Ansa. Pictured are medical workers outside a hospital in Padua

The first to die was retired bricklayer Adriano Trevisan, 78, (pictured) who passed away in a hospital in north eastern Italy on Friday evening

The first to die was retired bricklayer Adriano Trevisan, 78, (pictured) who passed away in a hospital in north eastern Italy on Friday evening

The first to die was retired bricklayer Adriano Trevisan, 78, (pictured) who passed away in a hospital in north eastern Italy on Friday evening

The last two days of the carnival in Venice, as well as Sunday night's festivities, have been cancelled because of an outbreak of coronavirus. Pictured: Attendee wearing a facemask

The last two days of the carnival in Venice, as well as Sunday night's festivities, have been cancelled because of an outbreak of coronavirus. Pictured: Attendee wearing a facemask

The last two days of the carnival in Venice, as well as Sunday night’s festivities, have been cancelled because of an outbreak of coronavirus. Pictured: Attendee wearing a facemask

Tourists wear protective face masks in a gondola, because of an outbreak of coronavirus, in Venice

Tourists wear protective face masks in a gondola, because of an outbreak of coronavirus, in Venice

Tourists wear protective face masks in a gondola, because of an outbreak of coronavirus, in Venice

Carnival revellers wear protective face masks at Venice Carnival, which the last two days of, as well as Sunday night's festivities, have been cancelled

Carnival revellers wear protective face masks at Venice Carnival, which the last two days of, as well as Sunday night's festivities, have been cancelled

Carnival revellers wear protective face masks at Venice Carnival, which the last two days of, as well as Sunday night’s festivities, have been cancelled

‘The rapid increase in reported cases in Italy over the past two days is of concern,’ World Health Organization spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic said.

Not all reported cases seem to have clear epidemiological links, such as travel history to China or contact with a confirmed case, Jasarevic added.

‘At this stage, we need to focus on limiting further human to human transmission.’

Iran ordered the closure of schools, universities and cultural centres across 14 provinces following eight deaths – the most outside East Asia.

The outbreak in the Islamic Republic surfaced Wednesday and quickly grew to 43 confirmed infections, a sudden rise that prompted regional travel restrictions.

Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pachinian said his country will close its border with Iran and suspend flights.

Roma supporters wear protective face masks due to the Coronavirus COVID-19 epidemic prior to the Italian Serie A soccer match between AS Roma and US Lecce at the Olimpico stadium in Rome, Italy

Roma supporters wear protective face masks due to the Coronavirus COVID-19 epidemic prior to the Italian Serie A soccer match between AS Roma and US Lecce at the Olimpico stadium in Rome, Italy

Roma supporters wear protective face masks due to the Coronavirus COVID-19 epidemic prior to the Italian Serie A soccer match between AS Roma and US Lecce at the Olimpico stadium in Rome, Italy

Lazio fans were also pictured wearing face masks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and SS Lazio that went ahead at Stadio Luigi Ferraris earlier today

Lazio fans were also pictured wearing face masks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and SS Lazio that went ahead at Stadio Luigi Ferraris earlier today

Lazio fans were also pictured wearing face masks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and SS Lazio that went ahead at Stadio Luigi Ferraris earlier today

East Anglia Prof. Hunter said the situation in Iran has ‘major implications’ for the Middle East.

‘It is unlikely that Iran will have the resources and facilities to adequately identify cases and adequately manage them if case numbers are large,’ Prof. Hunter said.

Pakistan and Turkey announced the closure of land crossings with Iran while Afghanistan said it was suspending travel to the country. 

The outbreak in China remains concentrated in the city of Wuhan – locked down one month ago – where the virus is believed to have emanated from a live animal market in December.

China’s infection rate has slowed, but flip-flopping over counting methods has sown confusion over its data.

There also was growing concern over the difficulty of detecting the virus. 

Japan on Sunday confirmed a woman who tested negative and disembarked from the virus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship later tested positive.

Similarly in Israel, authorities confirmed that a second Israeli citizen who returned from the ship had tested positive. They were among 11 Israelis allowed off the ship and flown home after initially testing negative.

Japan has been criticised over its handling of cases aboard the vessel quarantined off Yokohama.

A third passenger died Sunday, Japan’s health ministry said, without specifying if it was as a result of the virus. 

Children wearing face masks play hockey on rollers, following an outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the country, in Beijing

Children wearing face masks play hockey on rollers, following an outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the country, in Beijing

Children wearing face masks play hockey on rollers, following an outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the country, in Beijing

Ambulances carrying patients infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus arrive at a hospital in Daegu, South Korea on Sunday

Ambulances carrying patients infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus arrive at a hospital in Daegu, South Korea on Sunday

Ambulances carrying patients infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus arrive at a hospital in Daegu, South Korea on Sunday

A woman practises Wushu, a Chinese martial art, while wearing a mask as a precautionary measure against the spread of the Covid-19 novel coronavirus in Hong Kong

A woman practises Wushu, a Chinese martial art, while wearing a mask as a precautionary measure against the spread of the Covid-19 novel coronavirus in Hong Kong

A woman practises Wushu, a Chinese martial art, while wearing a mask as a precautionary measure against the spread of the Covid-19 novel coronavirus in Hong Kong

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