Coronavirus: Italy to close all schools as deaths rise

romeImage copyright EPAImage caption Italy is home to Europe’s biggest coronavirus outbreak

Italy has confirmed that it will shut all schools from Thursday for 10 days as it battles to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

All schools and universities are to close until 15 March, officials said.

A total of 107 people have now been killed by the coronavirus in Italy, which has the most serious outbreak in Europe.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the country’s health service risked being overwhelmed.

Most of the more than 3,000 cases are in the north but others have been confirmed in 19 of Italy’s 20 regions.

Globally about 3,200 people have died and more than 90,000 have been infected, the vast majority in China, where the virus emerged late last year.

The World Health Organization has so far stopped short of declaring a pandemic – an epidemic spreading across the world through local transmission – but on Wednesday Germany’s health minister said the coronavirus now met the definition.

“The situation is changing very quickly… What’s clear is that we have not yet reached the peak of the outbreak,” Jens Spahn said.

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Media captionThe BBC Health team talk you through what the NHS says about protecting yourself from Covid-19

Confirmed cases have been reported in 81 countries, with Italy, Iran and South Korea emerging as hotspots outside China.

What do I need to know about the coronavirus?

What is Italy doing?

Education Minister Lucia Azzolina said she hoped students would be able to resume classes as soon as possible.

“My commitment is to ensure that the essential public service, albeit from a distance, is provided to all our students,” she said.

Local media said health experts and Italy’s health ministry had been in favour of closing schools. Health experts also want football matches to be played behind closed doors. Several games have already been postponed.

Italy’s death toll from the virus jumped by 28 to 107, the Civil Protection Agency said on Wednesday. Most of the deaths have been in the Lombardy region around Milan and in northern areas near Bologna and Venice.

Earlier measures including the quarantine of 11 towns near Milan with a combined population of 50,000 have failed to stop the spread of infections.

Italy is now also considering closing cinemas and theatres and banning public events, Reuters reported, quoting a draft government decree.

The decree also tells Italians to avoid hugging and shaking hands as much as possible.

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Media captionQuiet on Venice streets amid coronavirus fears

Which other countries have closed school?

Mainland China and Hong Kong, Japan, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates have already closed schools or are about to do so – affecting millions of schoolchildren.

France has also closed about 120 schools in areas with the largest numbers of coronavirus infections.

Both primary and secondary schools have been shut in an area north of Paris where the main cluster of French cases has emerged and where two people who have died of the virus lived.

What else is happening?

  • Israel is imposing new travel restrictions on five European countries – France, Germany, Spain, Austria and Switzerland
  • There are fears of global shortages of some common drugs after India limited the export of certain medicines
  • Saudi Arabia has suspended the lesser Muslim pilgrimage, or Umra, for Saudi citizens and residents of the Gulf kingdom
  • Iraq is to suspend all trade with Iran and Kuwait for a week. The northern Kurdistan region said religious ceremonies at mosques, churches and temples were banned until further notice
  • The US has recorded new cases in New York while the city of Los Angeles has declared a public health emergency
  • Australians have been stockpiling toilet paper after the country’s first two deaths were reported
  • German airline Lufthansa says it is grounding 150 of its 770 aircraft due to “extraordinary circumstances”
  • The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned of the growing economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak, predicting a drop in global growth below last year’s modest level
  • But International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach insisted this summer’s Games in Tokyo would go ahead as planned

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