The governor of the region of Lombardy, at the epicentre of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak, has placed himself in quarantine after one of his staff came down with the disease.
Attilio Fontana, who has held repeated news conferences this past week to explain how his region is dealing with the flare-up, announced the news on Facebook late on Wednesday and videoed himself putting on a surgical face mask.
“For now I don’t have any type of infection so I can continue to work … but for two weeks I will try to live in a sort of self-isolation,” he said.
More than 300 people have tested positive over the past week for coronavirus in Lombardy, which is centred in Italy’s financial capital Milan, and 10 people have died in the region.
Across all of Italy, more than 400 people have contracted the disease and 12 have died – the worst contagion so far recorded in Europe.
“For days, Italian government officials have been urging citizens not to panic,” said Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Jamjoom, reporting from Milan.
“The people under quarantine we’ve been speaking to are heeding that advice. As coronavirus cases in the country continue to rise, they find themselves growing more concerned, but they say they’re doing their utmost to remain calm.”
World Health Organization (WHO) executive committee member Walter Ricciardi has suggested the numbers in Italy might be exaggerated, saying only 190 cases had been fully confirmed in a two-step verification process. The other samples were still awaiting results.
Ricciardi, who is also a consultant for the government in its fight against the virus, told the Corriere della Sera newspaper that Veneto, the second-most affected region, had decided to test hundreds of people, even if they showed no symptoms.
He said some were testing positive, even though they were clearly not ill, adding this was unnecessarily raising the alarm.
“Whoever gave the order to test even those without symptoms … made a mistake,” he said.
Local authorities said on Wednesday some 9,462 tests had been carried out in Italy over the past week.
"I am ready to protect everyone from Lombardy and anyone who comes into contact with me.”
Governor of Italy’s Lombardy region is in self-isolation after his aide caught coronavirus.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) February 27, 2020
Analysts have warned the outbreak could shunt Italy’s fragile economy into its fourth recession in 12 years, with many businesses in the wealthy north close to a standstill and hotels reporting a wave of cancellations.
Claudio Marenzi, head of fashion at the industrialist lobby Confindustria, said the textile and clothing sectors were taking a battering, with international buyers pulling their orders on an irrational fear that products might be infected.
“There have been a wave [of cancellations] driven by news of the spread of coronavirus,” he told the Il Sole 24 Ore daily. “Speaking with colleagues and associates, we can consider that 2020 is lost.”
Travellers returning to the United Kingdom from northern Italy were told they may need to self-isolate as part of measures to stop the spread of illness.
The warning came after two more people in the UK tested positive for coronavirus, after contracting the disease in Italy and Tenerife.
The new cases bring the total number of people diagnosed with COVID-19 in the UK to 15.
The UK Foreign Office has advised against all but essential travel to 10 towns in Lombardy – Codogno, Castiglione d’Adda, Casalpusterlengo, Fombio, Maleo, Somaglia, Bertonico, Terranova dei Passerini, Castelgerundo and San Fiorano – and one in Veneto – Vo’Euganeo.