Italy moves to curb virus impact as more countries get cases

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A cleaner sanitizes a wagon on a regional train, at the Garibaldi train station in Milan, Italy, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. Authorities are taking new measures to sanitize trains and public transportation after the COVID-19 virus outbreak. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

ROME – Italian health authorities asked residents in northern Italy to ride out shuttered schools, closed factories and other public health measures for a little longer Friday as the country's count of coronavirus cases rose to 888, the most by far of any nation outside Asia.

Under quarantine orders the government imposed on 11 towns a week ago, only supermarkets and pharmacies have been allowed to open in the so-called “red zone.” But to the relief of Italians who use post offices for banking or to collect pension checks, local branches were cleared to re-open Monday, Italy's civil protection chief said.

Government officials sought to allay the public's fear and the hit Italy's tourism industry has taken since clusters of virus infections appeared in the Lombardy and Veneto regions a week ago. The civil protection chief said that more than 400 people who tested positive are mildly ill or not sick at all while isolated at home.

“The aim is to return to normalcy,'' Veneto Gov. Luca Zaia told Italian state TV, in an interview, noting that 79 of the 133 people in his region with the virus “have no symptoms and are in perfect health.”

Meanwhile, other countries made a different diagnosis. Since Thursday night, cases with links to Italy were reported in Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, United Arab Emirates, Greece, France and Nigeria - the first known case in sub-Saharan Africa.

In all, 24 cases have been exported from Italy to 14 countries, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom said. Later Friday, the list grew to 15 countries when Iceland said a one of its nationals who had traveled to Italy tested positive after returning home.

While Italy was looking to lift outbreak-related restrictions, other European countries suspended activities and events in an attempt to control the virus' spread.

Italy's neighbor, Switzerland, Friday banned all public events involving more than 1,000 people until March 15, including the annual Geneva International Motor Show. Montenegro suspended flights to and from Bologna and Milan.