An elderly man in the northern city of Padua has died after being infected with the coronavirus, becoming the first Italian victim of the disease, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on Friday.
Health authorities announced earlier in the day 15 cases of the virus in the wealthy northern region of Lombardy and two in neighboring Veneto where Padua is located — the first known cases of local transmission in the country.
None of those infected were believed to have traveled to China, the epicenter of the new illness, and local authorities in Italy scrambled to contain the outbreak.
Local media said the dead man was a 78-year-old from the small town of Vo’ Euganeo who was hospitalized two weeks ago.
“Strict measures to create a health cordon around Vo’ Euganeo (have been put in place),” regional governor Luca Zaia wrote on Facebook.
In neighbouring Lombardy, the government banned all public events and closed schools in several small towns southeast of Italy’s financial capital Milan.
“We had prepared a plan in recent days, because it was clear what has happened could somehow happen,” Health Minister Speranza told reporters as doctors tested hundreds of people who might have come into contact with the coronavirus sufferers.
Speaking on the margins of a European Union meeting in Brussels before the Italian fatality was announced, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he would meet the chiefs of Italy’s civil protection agency, and that the situation was under control.
“We were ready for this (outbreak) … the people have no need to be worried, we will adopt increasingly severe and precautionary measures,” he said.