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Empty shelves and stadiums in Italy's coronavirus crisis

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The Italian government is moving toward having soccer matches played behind closed doors in affected areas, as authorities try to contain a spreading virus that has made northern Italy the focal point of the outbreak in Europe.

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Civil protection officials said at least 229 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Italy – up from just three before Friday.

State television on Monday night reported the seventh death of an infected person – all of whom had pre-existing medical conditions and were elderly.

Inter Milan announced on Monday that its Europa League match against Ludogorets will be played at the San Siro without fans in the stands.

The decision was widely expected and Ludogorets had announced shortly before that Inter had sent it a letter stating that the city’s health authorities have allowed the match to go ahead behind closed doors.

Italy’s football federation (FIGC) said on its website that it had made the request to the government for matches to be played without fans in attendance “to safeguard the sporting competition”.

Almost a dozen towns in Lombardy and Veneto with a combined population of some 50,000 have effectively been placed under quarantine, with locals urged to stay home and special permission needed to enter or leave the designated areas, with police controlling routes in and out.

Schools and universities were ordered closed for at least a week, museums and cinemas were shut and the last two days of Venice Carnival were cancelled.

In Milan, residents rushed to stock up on essentials, while some parents decided to take their children out of the city, bars were ordered closed by 6pm and La Scala opera house cancelled performances.

The surge of infections outside mainland China triggered steep falls in Asian shares and Wall Street stock futures as investors fled to safe havens such as gold. Oil prices tumbled.

Mainland China today confirmed 508 new cases of coronavirus infections, the country’s National Health Commission said.

Monday’s cases are up from 409 cases a day earlier, the commission revealed on Tuesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases on the mainland so far to 77,658.

The death toll from the outbreak in mainland China had reached 2,663 as of the end of Monday, up by 71 from the previous day.

The central province of Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak, reported 68 new deaths, while in the provincial capital of Wuhan, 56 people died.

South Korea has reported 60 new cases, increasing the total number of infected patients in the country to 893, the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said today.

Australian stocks plunged after fears the outbreak could become a pandemic sparked a major sell-off on global markets.

The S&P/ASX200 index fell more than 2.5 per cent as trade began on Tuesday but by midday had recovered a little after media reports of a potential coronavirus vaccine to be trialled on people.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said it no longer had a process for declaring a pandemic but the coronavirus outbreak remained an international emergency.

“We are specially concerned about the rapid increase in cases in … Iran, Italy and the Republic of Korea,” WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference in Sweden.

South Korea reported a seventh death and 231 new cases taking its total to 833, as its hard-hit fourth-largest city of Daegu became more isolated with Asiana Airlines and Korean Air suspending flights there until next month.

Japan had 773 cases as of late Sunday, mostly on a cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo. A third passenger, a Japanese man in his 80s, died on Sunday.

Iran, which announced its first two cases on Wednesday, said it had confirmed 43 cases and eight deaths. Most of the infections were in the Shi’ite Muslim holy city of Qom.

More cases appeared in the Middle East with Bahrain reporting its first case, the state news agency said, and Kuwait reporting three cases involving people who had been in Iran.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan imposed travel and immigration restrictions on Iran. But Afghanistan reported its first case on Monday, in the western border province of Herat, again involving someone who had recently been in Iran, officials said.

The WHO has been saying for weeks it dreads the disease reaching countries with weak health systems.

Scientists around the world are scrambling to analyse the virus, but a vaccine is probably more than a year away.

China postponed the annual meeting of its parliament and would ban the illegal trade and consumption of wildlife, state media reported. The virus originated late last year, apparently in an illegal wildlife market in the city of Wuhan.

But in good news for China, more than 20 province-level jurisdictions including Beijing and Shanghai, reported zero infections, the best showing since the outbreak began.

President Xi Jinping urged businesses to get back to work though he said the epidemic was still “severe and complex, and prevention and control work is in the most difficult and critical stage”.

-with AAP

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