Italian authorities reported 16 cases of the new coronavirus on Friday, as the country grappled with the surge after having just three total confirmed one day earlier.
Six patients were in the northern town of Codogno, prompting bars, schools, and offices to shut down for up to five days under an order from the mayor to try to stop the spread of the new virus, which causes the COVID-19 disease.
Three of the six patients, including a 38-year-old who is in intensive care, are showing symptoms, while three others were re-tested to confirm the results, reported The Local.
Discovery of the cases “has created a situation of alarm throughout the municipality,” Codogno Mayor Francesco Passerini said.
The transmission of the new cases isn’t confirmed but authorities said the man in intensive care shared a meal with another man who visited China last month. The pregnant wife of the man in the hospital and a friend of his are two of the other confirmed cases.
The man who visited China later tested negative for the new virus. Italian media reported that some 250 people are being tested in the area.
Authorities later in the day said that there were eight additional cases, including five doctors, in the Lombardy region, which includes Codogno and Milan and borders Switzerland. The other two were in Veneto, a northeastern region that includes Venice and shares a small border with Austria.
“We are working to identify all the people that entered in direct contact with them,” Lombardy Councillor Giulio Gallera said at a press conference, referring to the confirmed cases.
He said residents in Codogno, Castiglione D’adda, and Casalpusterlengo should “stay at home.”
The decision to shut down Codogno was deemed an overreaction by some, with a resident saying, “Wearing masks is the right thing to do, but I think there is too much panic. Closing the streets etc.”
“Now the people who work are even more in trouble,” the local said.
Another resident said, “There is a lot of alarm, and this worries us. I am in fact very worried; let’s see the evolution of the situation.”
Prior to Friday, just three people had been confirmed in Italy to have the virus.
Two Chinese tourists who came from Wuhan tested positive in Rome in late January, while an Italian who returned from the Chinese city with a special flight repatriating some 56 nationals was hospitalized a week later.
The virus emerged in Wuhan in December 2019 and has infected scores in China, killing thousands. The disease it causes is similar to pneumonia and can manifest with just mild symptoms in some patients but can range to intense severity, with other patients requiring assistance breathing.
Symptoms include fever, cough, and headache.
Experts say the best way to avoid the illness, besides avoiding to travel to stricken areas, is to frequently wash hands, stay away from sick people, and not touch one’s eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands. If people have symptoms, they should call their healthcare provider and self-isolate at home. Anyone caring for them should be careful and wear a mask, among other protection.
Reuters contributed to this report.