Four deaths spark panic in Italy as health experts warn of ‘global tipping point’
Health experts have warned that the world is “running out of time” to stop the coronavirus pandemic as authorities in Italy struggle to contain an outbreak of the deadly virus.
Four new deaths in Italy have triggered panic across the country after at least 152 people tested positive for COVID-19.
The Italian government has now locked down 50,000 people in 12 towns in the north of the country, prompting experts to warn the situation is now at a “global tipping point.”
In response to the outbreak in Italy, Austria is assembling a coronavirus taskforce to discuss whether to introduce emergency controls along the Italian border.
On Sunday evening, Austria refused entry to a train coming from Italy after the Italian State Railways informed Austrian train operator OBB that there were two people with fever symptoms on board.
“Tonight a train on its way from Venice to Munich was stopped at the Austrian border,” Austria’s interior ministry earlier confirmed.
As Italy recorded its first death on Friday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Director General 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.
In the Middle East, Kuwait and Bahrain have today confirmed their first virus cases, saying all the new patients had recently returned from Iran.
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.
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, the 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.”
After 50,000 residents were placed on lockdown in Italy Sunday, panic has started to spread across the country.
As fears mount in Italy, authorities 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 live-streamed.
Most cases are confined to the northern town of Codogno, about 43 miles southeast of Milan.
Neighboring 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.
The fourth victim was an 84-year-old man from Bergamo, according to Sky News Italia.
Last night Austria held up a train carrying around 300 people in the Brenner Pass, which crosses the 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.”
“The rapid increase in reported cases in Italy over the past two days is of concern,” WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic said.