Coronavirus: Four more dead in Italy as disease spreads across Europe

Aubrey Allegretti and Tom Gillespie, news reporters
The red shows coronavirus cases have been recorded in Europe

Four more people have been confirmed dead in Italy as the coronavirus continues to spread across Europe.

Angelo Borrelli, the chief of Italy's Civil Protection agency, said the number of virus cases in the country increased 45% in the last day and there have now been 11 deaths.

The four latest deaths to be reported in Italy were all elderly people _ three over the age of 80 from Lombardy, the worst impacted region, and a 76-year-old woman in Veneto, another region in the north hit by the virus.

Mr Borrelli said number of confirmed cases in Italy had risen to 322, the vast majority of them in the north of the country.

It came after Switzerland, Austria and Croatia confirmed their first cases of the virus in their countries on Tuesday.

The cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, involved people who had recently travelled from virus-hit parts of neighbouring Italy.

A top official at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said it was no longer a question of if the virus would become a global pandemic.

Dr Anne Schuchat said: "It's a question of when and how many people will be infected."

The Six Nations rugby match between Ireland and Italy in Dublin this weekend is in doubt over coronavirus fears.

Ireland's Health Minister Simon Harris told Sky News: "Nobody wants to see mass events cancelled but at the end of the day we have to prioritise public health.

"We're in a containment stage. It's impossible to stop every single case of COVID-19, we've seen that in recent days.

"But we do need to take all reasonable measures in Ireland and abroad to try and minimise the impact and minimise the spread.

"The national public health emergency team today was very strongly of the view that the Ireland Italy rugby match would be a very high risk event."

The Ireland national side has said it is seeking an urgent meeting with Mr Harris as to the specific reasoning behind calling for the cancellation of the match.

Countries confirming cases in Europe today:

A 70-year-old man from Switzerland's southern state of Ticino, which borders Italy, tested positive after returning from a trip to Milan, the head of the Swiss Federal Office for Public Health said.

Pascal Strupler said the man is being isolated at a clinic in Lugano while authorities try to trace anyone he had contact with.

Mr Strupler said it was likely there will be more cases in Switzerland.

Authorities in the western Austrian state of Tyrol said a woman and a man, both 24-years-old and from the Bergamo area in Lombardy, drove into the country in their private car on Friday.

Guenter Weiss, a senior doctor at Innsbruck's university hospital, said the woman fell ill Saturday and developed a fever Sunday.

The woman's boyfriend had a fever and a sore throat the same day.

The couple reported themselves to authorities late Monday.

Mr Weiss said both are in a stable condition with only mild symptoms but will be kept in isolation until the weekend.

He added: "We have to work on the assumption that due to the proximity to Italy, one or the other case may still come."

Franz Katzgraber, the head of the Tyrol state health department, said authorities are currently tracing possible contacts the patients may have had in Austria.

Croatia also confirmed its first case Tuesday, a man who had travelled to the Italian city of Milan.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said it's a "younger man, with a mild form of the disease" and that he has "been isolated and his condition is good".

The German Red Cross said people who have recently travelled to areas with local transmission of the virus, such as parts of northern Italy, will be prevented from giving blood for four weeks.

Iran's deputy health minister and head of the country's anti-coronavirus taskforce, Iraj Harirchi, also tested positive for the virus after being seen sweating and appearing uncomfortable at a news conference on Monday.

A separate MP for Tehran has also been infected and citizens there are being advised to stay at home, according to state media.

And a plane load of people - 132 passengers and crew - on board an evacuation flight of Turkish citizens out of Iran have landed and been put into quarantine at a hospital in Ankara.

So far 13 people in the UK have tested positive for COVID-19; the latest four were travellers rescued from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.

Globally there are 80,350 suspected and confirmed cases and 2,705 people have died, according to the Johns Hopkins hospital - one of the biggest medical researchers in the world which is collating the figures.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he didn't think any Britons were trapped in the areas being quarantined by the Italian government but the "significant outbreak" of cases there was "worrying".

"I'm pretty worried," he told Sky News' Kay Burley@Breakfast. "We've got the plans in place. At the moment the containment here is going well, but it's my job to be worried.

"That's what you'd expect of a health secretary in the middle of what is a global outbreak.

"There is a good chance that we contain this at this sort of level where the number of cases - although we expect more cases in the UK - the number of cases is relatively low as now."

He added anyone who has also returned from Iran, special care zones in South Korea and Hubei province in China should also self-isolate immediately.

In other developments:

COVID-19 has been fatal in 2% of reported cases, with the elderly and ill the most vulnerable, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

A spokesman has warned countries to up their preparedness, saying the virus is "literally knocking at the door".

At least 283 people have had the disease and five have died, with a further two fatalities reported, in Italy so far.

Among the worst-affected regions is Lombardy, which includes the country's financial capital of Milan where major football games have been called off and cinemas and theatres were closed. Supermarkets were also pictured with empty shelves.

Authorities there are scrambling to contain the biggest outbreak of coronavirus in Europe, which has prompted Austria to assemble a special taskforce to consider border controls.

:: Listen to the Daily podcast with Dermot Murnaghan on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker

There are thought to be 11 towns on lockdown at the moment containing at least 50,000 inhabitants, with 500 police controlling 43 access points - Codogno, Castiglione d'Adda, Casalpusterlengo, Fombio, Maleo, Somaglia, Bertonico, Terranova dei Passerini, Castelgerundo and San Fiorano in Lombardy; as well as Vo' Euganeo in the Veneto region.

Those who refuse to stay put inside the zones could be jailed for up to three months.

Oladimeji Mudele, who is studying for a PhD in Pavia - which is on lockdown - told Sky News on Tuesday morning most of his fellow students from southern Italy had returned home.

The streets are near-empty with shops closed and public gatherings at the university suspended, he added.

Antonio Bernocchi, a store manager from Milan quarantined in Cogodno, said he was being kept in the "red zone" and adjusting to a "new normality".

He urged people to "stay calm" and "just follow the rules that the politicians have given to us".

Questions have also been raised over whether the upcoming Six Nations rugby match between Italy and England due to take place in Stadio Olimpico in Rome could have to go ahead in Twickenham instead, if the coronavirus threat grows.

A spokesperson for the company told Sky News they were monitoring the situation and in regular contact with the Italian authorities.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Hancock reassured travellers it was still "reasonable" to travel to southern Italy and official advice to those heading there has not been changed.

But the governor of Sicily, which is in the south, later said a woman on holiday from the north had been diagnosed with the illness.

The tourist has been taken to hospital in the island's capital of Palermo.

Up to 1,000 holidaymakers visiting Tenerife in the Canary Islands have also been left trapped in their hotel rooms after an Italian doctor tested positive for the virus, who has now been quarantined in a local clinic.

COVID-19 originated in Wuhan, China, and was identified on 16 January.