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Sixth Italian dies from coronavirus in Europe’s worst flare-up, confirmed cases jump above 220 in northern Italy

A sixth person infected with the coronavirus has died in Italy, officials said on Monday (February 24) as the government battled to contain Europe’s worst outbreak of the illness and Italian shares tumbled nearly 5% on fears over the economic impact.

More than 220 people have come down with the virus since Friday (February 21), latest data showed, the vast majority of them in the wealthy regions of Lombardy and Veneto.

Authorities across northern Italy have shut schools, universities, museums and cinemas for at least a week, and banned public gatherings including the famed Venice carnival.

Ten towns in Lombardy close to Italy’s financial capital Milan, with a combined population of nearly 50,000, have been placed under effective quarantine, with similar measures in place for a small town in neighbouring Veneto.

Analysts warned that the outbreak, which is centred on the country’s industrial and financial heartlands, could shunt Italy’s fragile economy into its fourth recession in 12 years. 

Italian shares were down 4.68% at 1300 GMT, with businesses most at risk from an expected spending slump worst hit. Electronic payments group NEXI lost more than 6.7%, while motorway and airport retail group Autogrill slumped 12.5%

Local authorities announced three new deaths on Monday — two men in their 80s and a woman suffering from cancer. ANSA news agency reported a fourth fatality during the day, but there was no official confirmation of this.

The three previous fatalities recorded since Friday were all elderly and most of the dead had underlying health problems.

Lombardy remained the worst hit region with some 172 confirmed cases, while neighbouring Veneto had 32 infections, including two in Venice, which had been packed with tourists for the carnival season.

Officials said 23 people were in intensive care, while almost 100 were being taken care of in their own homes, with some of them showing few or no outward symptoms. 

Milan, a city of 1.3 million people, was much quieter than normal for a Monday morning. Trials were cancelled, some supermarket shelves were empty, and even the city’s imposing Gothic cathedral closed its doors, disappointing tourists. 

(Production: Tanya Lezaic)

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