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Germany’s health minister: Country facing coronavirus epidemic

Germany is at the beginning of a coronavirus epidemic, according to Health Minister Jens Spahn.

Berlin, 26 February 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Germany is at the beginning of a coronavirus epidemic, according to Health Minister Jens Spahn.

Seven new cases of coronavirus across three states have been identified, bringing the country’s total to 19. Some of the infected had recently been in Italy.

A new crisis team of Health and Interior Ministry staff held its first meeting on Wednesday, according to a spokesperson. So far, no border closures are planned.

Health Minister Jens Spahn said he expected the number of cases to increase significantly: “We are at the beginning of a coronavirus epidemic in Germany,” he said.

Meanwhile, France recorded its second coronavirus death—and the first to involve a French citizen—as fresh cases continued to crop up across Europe, putting the continent on edge.

The victim was a schoolteacher aged 60 from northern France who had been off sick since Feb. 12.

The number of diagnosed infections in France has risen to 18, according to national health director Jerome Salomon.

Twelve of the victims have already recovered, Salomon said. One, an elderly Chinese tourist, died earlier this month.

In Italy, where 11 towns in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto are currently on lockdown, confirmed infections climbed to 400 by Wednesday evening, and the death toll reached 12.

In Rome, the Vatican announced the closure of catacombs throughout the country. The pope, however, greeted and embraced pilgrims during his traditional audience in St Peter’s Square.

Greece and North Macedonia announced their first infections, with both cases linked to Italy.

The Greek Health Ministry said a woman who had recently visited northern Italy was in isolation in a Thessaloniki hospital.

North Macedonia’s Health Minister Venko Filipche said a woman had been diagnosed after becoming unwell during a month in Italy, but only going to the doctor after she returned home.

Croatia meanwhile confirmed a third case on Wednesday as a patient who worked in Parma, Italy, was hospitalized in Rijeka.

Croatia’s first two cases were brothers, one of whom caught the infection on a trip to Italy for a Champions League match, Health Minister Vili Beros told the state broadcaster HRT.

Further north, Finnish health authorities confirmed a second coronavirus case, a patient who had recently visited Milan in Italy.

She is being treated at the Helsinki University Hospital and is doing well, public broadcaster YLE reported.

A second confirmed coronavirus case has been diagnosed in Sweden, Swedish health authorities said on Wednesday.

The patient was a man in his 30s who had returned from a visit to northern Italy a few days earlier, and become ill in Sweden, infectious disease physician Tomas Wahlberg told reporters.

He was being treated at the Sahlgrenska University Hospital in the west coast city of Gothenburg, and doing well, Wahlberg added.

Lithuania’s government in Vilnius, where no cases have yet been registered, announced a state of emergency to prevent the spread of the virus.

Other countries also adopted preventive measures, including Austria, where holy water was removed from receptacles in Salzburg cathedral and the administering of oral communion and the sharing of the sign of peace—shaking hands—during services have been suspended.

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