The Venice Carnival festival will close Sunday, several days ahead of schedule, because of the coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy, the head of the region said on Sky TG24 television Sunday.

"From this evening, we plan to stop carnival and all sporting activities until March 1," regional president Luca Zaia said in announcing a series of measures to combat the spread of the virus.

The carnival was due to close on Tuesday after opening on February 8.  

"All private and public gatherings" must be avoided, Zaia said, adding that all schools will also be closed until March 1.

Zaia said such "draconian measures" were driven by the need to avoid problems after the Venice region reported Italy's first local coronavirus death on Friday.

Italy has confirmed 132 cases of the virus, including three deaths, and has imposed travel and movement restrictions for tens of thousands of residents in several northern towns.

Most of Italy's cases are centred around Codogno, about 70 kilometres (43 miles) southeast of Milan. 

In other reports, Zaia said he was concerned that the source of the outbreak in the region has still not been found, with tests of eight Chinese people who had been to the same bar as the first victim producing no information.

"That suggests that the virus is much wider spread than we thought," he added.

Zaia, in office for 10 years, said the crisis was the "most serious that he ever had to manage."

Closed doors at Armani fashion show

Giorgio Armani announced it would hold its Milan Fashion Week show behind closed doors on Sunday .   

Anxiety over the outbreak -- which has killed more than 2,400 and infected nearly 80,000, mostly in China -- crept onto the catwalk as Milan closed its five-day fashion week on Sunday. 

Giorgio Armani said it would hold its womenswear show to an empty room as a precaution.

"The decision was taken to safeguard the well-being of all his invited guests by not having them attend crowded spaces," the brand said in a statement on Saturday. 

The decisions prompted worry in some corners. 

"When the news came yesterday evening about the closed door shows, we understood that things were getting serious and we didn't know if measures being taken were excessive or necessary," one Armani employee said. 

Elsewhere at Milan Fashion week, Italian designer Laura Biagiotti cancelled her show. But Dolce and Gabbana took a less drastic approach and held their events as planned.

For some attendees, the thought of being crammed into shows and parties was enough to spark anxiety. 

"We've all been in contact with hundreds of people, it gives me chills to think of all these interactions," said a woman working in the Fendi showroom. 

Despite fears gripping some crowds, many of Saturday night's dinners and parties were well attended, including Bottega Veneta's fete celebrating its collection unveiled earlier in the day. 

Some journalists covering the event warned of hysteria setting in. 

"The concern over the virus is becoming alarmist. We have to be careful to not give into the panic," said one journalist from an Italian fashion publication. 

Queues for food

Over 50,000 residents in 11 towns in northern Italy are effectively under quarantine after Italy confirmed three deaths from the coronavirus on Friday and Saturday. 

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the lockdown measures could last for weeks. 

Locals wearing face masks were already lined up outside a supermarket in the town of Casalpusterlengo, a 10 minute drive from Codogno, on Sunday morning.

Shoppers were made to wait, then allowed to enter in groups of 40 inside the store to stock up on provisions.

Although one woman in the crowd downplayed the virus, telling other shoppers it was "not fatal" if properly treated, others were less sanguine.  

"It's inhuman," said one man who gave his name as Sante. "Fighting over four sandwiches is just disgusting."  

Another woman, Emanuela, told AFP-TV that residents including her were nervous. 

"I'm really scared, we're going through a really tough situation," said the woman, a nurse who works in the area.

Rising infections

Blockades were not yet erected, and cars could be seen driving in and around the area of Codogno and Casalpusterlengo, although police cars patrolled the area. 

It was not clear how authorities would impose the travel restrictions and whether residents would still be allowed to travel from town to town within the affected zones, without surpassing an outer limit.

"We're preparing to set up the checkpoints for the containment zone," a policewoman told AFP, saying that initially the perimeter would be narrow but could widen over time. 

"We're about ten criminal police teams here, so nothing related to this kind of situation, but we've been called in from Bologna, Turin and Genoa to give a hand," she added. 

For now, the quarantine appears to be largely dependent on individuals to respect the system but the government said those found in violation could face fines and even three months in jail.

The government has also said the army was prepared to step in if needed to enforce the perimeter. 

On Sunday, the head of the civil protection department, Angelo Borrelli, said during a press conference that thousands of beds were at the ready in military barracks or hotels to house quarantined or sick individuals, if needed. 

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us