Coronavirus: Italy to close all schools as deaths rise

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romeImage source, EPA
Image caption,
Italy has the most serious outbreak in Europe

Italy has confirmed that it will shut all schools from Thursday for 10 days as it battles to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

A total of 107 people have now been killed by the coronavirus in Italy, which has the most serious outbreak in Europe.

PM Giuseppe Conte said the health service risked being overwhelmed.

Most of the more than 3,000 cases are in the north but others have been confirmed in 19 of Italy's 20 regions.

Globally about 3,200 people have died and more than 90,000 have been infected, the vast majority in China, where the virus emerged late last year.

The World Health Organization has so far stopped short of declaring a pandemic - an epidemic spreading across the world through local transmission - but on Wednesday Germany's health minister said the coronavirus now met the definition.

Media caption,

Steps the NHS says you should take to protect yourself from Covid-19

"The situation is changing very quickly... What's clear is that we have not yet reached the peak of the outbreak," Jens Spahn said.

Confirmed cases have been reported in 81 countries, with Italy, Iran and South Korea emerging as hotspots outside China.

Fear is deepening

Mark Lowen, BBC Rome correspondent

Italy is suffering: with cafes and hotels half-empty, the tourism sector here is predicted to lose £6.5bn (8.5bn).

Another town north of Milan could be placed in quarantine as cases there grow.

But the containment measures so far have failed to halt the spread - there's now been the first death south of Rome.

And while the prime minister sounded a reassuring note in an address last night, fear of this crisis is deepening.

What else is happening?

  • The US House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved an $8.3bn (£6.5bn) funding bill to combat the spread of coronavirus. The emergency legislation now goes to the Senate
  • California has recorded the first death in the US outside Washington state. Los Angeles has declared a public health emergency
  • Israel is imposing new travel restrictions on five European countries - France, Germany, Spain, Austria and Switzerland
  • Saudi Arabia has suspended the lesser Muslim pilgrimage, or Umra, for Saudi citizens and residents of the Gulf kingdom
  • Iraq has announced two deaths. The country is to suspend all trade with Iran and Kuwait for a week. The northern Kurdistan region said religious ceremonies at mosques, churches and temples were banned until further notice
  • Australians have been stockpiling toilet paper after the country's first two deaths were reported
  • German airline Lufthansa says it is grounding 150 of its 770 aircraft amid "extraordinary circumstances"
  • The International Monetary Fund has warned of the growing economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak, predicting a drop in global growth below last year's modest level
  • But International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach insisted this summer's Games in Tokyo would go ahead as planned

What do I need to know about the coronavirus?

What is Italy doing?

Mr Conte called on all Italians to "do their part".

"We are in the same boat, whoever has the helm has the duty to indicate the route, we must make an extra effort, we must do it together," he said.

Education Minister Lucia Azzolina said she hoped students would be able to resume classes as soon as possible.

"My commitment is to ensure that the essential public service, albeit from a distance, is provided to all our students," she said.

Local media said health experts and Italy's health ministry had been in favour of closing schools.

Italy's death toll from the virus had jumped by 28 to 107, the Civil Protection Agency said on Wednesday. Most of the deaths have been in the Lombardy region around Milan, and in northern areas near Bologna and Venice.

Earlier measures including the quarantine of 11 towns near Milan with a combined population of 50,000 have failed to stop the spread of infections.

Italy is now also considering closing cinemas and theatres and banning public events, Reuters news agency reported, quoting a draft government decree.

The decree also tells Italians to avoid hugging and shaking hands as much as possible.

Media caption,

Quiet on Venice streets amid coronavirus fears

Which other countries have closed schools?

Mainland China and Hong Kong, Japan, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates have already closed schools or are about to do so - affecting millions of schoolchildren.

France has also closed about 120 schools in areas with the largest numbers of coronavirus infections.

Both primary and secondary schools have been shut in an area north of Paris where the main cluster of French cases has emerged and where two people who have died of the virus lived.

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