Berlin/Rome, 9 March 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Germany recorded its first two deaths from the coronavirus on Monday, as the authorities near Berlin imposed a mass quarantine in an attempt to slow the outbreak.
Both deaths occurred in the western state of North Rhine Westphalia, which has been the worst hit so far.
One of the victims was an 89-year-old woman in the city of Essen who was confirmed to have been infected with the coronavirus on Tuesday last week.
Earlier a local official in the state of Brandenburg, neighbouring Berlin, told dpa that between 4,000 and 5,000 people were in home quarantine following a suspected coronavirus case.
The quarantine was imposed after teachers at a high school in Neustadt-Dosse, a town around 85 kilometres north-west of Berlin, had contact with a woman from the capital who had tested positive for the new coronavirus.
The Robert Koch Institute, the government agency responsible for disease control and prevention reported that the number of confirmed cases in the country had surpassed the 1,000 mark, reaching 1,112.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition earlier agreed a package of measures to bolster the economic defences of Europe’s largest economy against a deepening global crisis triggered by the virus.
The German Football League (DFL) said Bundesliga matches would go ahead as scheduled, but games could take place behind closed doors on the advice of local authorities.
Germany is second only to Italy in terms of confirmed virus cases in Europe.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Monday said the country was facing its “darkest hour” as it battles the crisis.
“Over the past days I thought back to about what I read on Churchill: it is our darkest hour but we will make it,” Conte told the La Repubblica newspaper.
On Sunday, Italy’s Civil Protection Agency said the number of coronavirus cases had jumped by a quarter to 7,375 people, and the death toll had risen by 133 to 366 fatalities.
No other country apart from China has faced a higher death toll.
On the weekend, Conte’s government restricted travel in and out of large parts of northern Italy, including Milan and Venice, in an effort to contain the outbreak.
The government decision was leaked by the press late Saturday, causing a panicked rush out of Milan and other affected areas, which may have helped spread the virus out of lockdown areas.
All museums and sights are closed in Italy until at least April 3 in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.
Opposition leader Matteo Salvini called for the lockdown measures to be extended to the whole country, posting on Facebook: “We need to protect the country by extending the health emergency measures of the so-called ‘red zone’ to the entire nation, the health of the Italians comes before everything.”
The novel coronavirus outbreak is moving towards a phase in which its international spread can no longer be controlled, but it is not yet too late, the World Health Organization said on Monday.
“Now that the virus has a foothold in so many countries, the threat of a pandemic has become very real,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference after the number of infections climbed above 100,000 in 100 countries on the weekend.
“But it would be the first pandemic in history that could be controlled,” Tedros said. “The rule of the game is never give up.”
In Paris, two of the main candidates in the French capital’s municipal elections set for Sunday have cancelled their final rallies in response to new government rules banning gatherings of more than 1,000 people.
Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire predicted the health crisis would severely impact the French economy to the amount of several tenths of a percentage point of gross domestic product (GDP).
The virus pushed into more corners of Europe on Monday, with Albania reporting its first coronavirus cases: a father and son who recently travelled to Italy.
In neighbouring Kosovo, which has no confirmed coronavirus cases, the government acted on the recommendation by health authorities and cancelled all flights to and from Italy on Sunday.
Key institutions in Europe are also feeling the effects of the virus. A NATO staff member employed at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels has tested positive for Covid-19, a spokesperson said.
The employee, who is now in self-isolation at home, fell ill with a fever last week after returning from a holiday in northern Italy. NATO said all immediate colleagues were quickly informed and are now also working from home.
The Finnish president’s office announced on Monday it has introduced several measures to prevent infections.
Since last week, office staff were no longer to shake hands when they meet and video conferencing would be used when possible to limit participation in meetings and travel, a statement said.