France on Wednesday recorded its second Covid-19 death – the first of a French citizen – as fresh cases continued to crop up across Europe, putting the continent on edge.
The victim was a 60-year-old schoolteacher from northern France who had been off sick since February 12.
The Covid-19 disease caused by the new coronavirus had not been suspected and he was only tested for it on Tuesday when he became gravely ill, regional health director Etienne Champion said.
Including the dead man, France identified three new cases Tuesday night and a fourth on Wednesday, bringing the total number of diagnosed infections to 18, according to national health director Jerome Salomon.
Twelve of the victims have already recovered, Salomon said. One, an elderly Chinese tourist, died earlier this month.
Health Minister Olivier Veran said a Champions League match pitting Lyon at home against Turin’s Juventus would go ahead on Wednesday evening, even though Italy has Europe’s highest number of coronavirus cases.
The 3,000 Juventus supporters were coming from a region, Piedmont, where the virus was no more widespread than in France, he argued.
Meanwhile, Germany identified nine new cases since Tuesday evening, for a total of some 20 cases in the country. Some of the infected had recently visited Italy.
Health Minister Jens Spahn said he expected the number of cases to increase significantly: “We are at the beginning of a coronavirus epidemic in Germany,” he said.
In Italy, where 11 towns in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto are currently on lockdown, confirmed infections climbed to 400 by Wednesday evening and the death toll reached 12.
Lombardy President Attilio Fontana said he would try to live in a “sort of self-isolation” after a member of his staff tested positive to the virus.
“It is a person with whom I am constantly working,” Fontana said of the woman who tested positive, adding that all other members of his staff and people dealing with the outbreak with her were tested and the results were so far been negative.
In Rome, the Vatican announced the closure of catacombs throughout the country. The pope, however, greeted and embraced pilgrims during his traditional audience in St Peter’s Square.
Greece, Northern Macedonia and Romania announced their first infections, with all three cases linked to Italy.
The Greek Health Ministry said a woman who had recently visited northern Italy was in isolation in a Thessaloniki hospital.
North Macedonian Health Minister Venko Filipce said a woman had been diagnosed after becoming unwell during a month in Italy, but only went to the doctor after she returned home.
Romanian Health Minister Victor Costache said a patient from Gorj county, in the country’s south-west, was admitted to a clinic in the capital Bucharest, broadcaster PRO TV reported.
The patient, who is in good condition, had come in contact with a 71-year-old Italian man who visited the region earlier in February before testing positive after returning home, Romanian media said.
Norway also reported its first confirmed coronavirus case late on Wednesday.
The Norwegian Institute of Public Health said the patient, who was not identified by gender or age, had returned at the weekend from a part of China where the virus is prevalent.
Croatia meanwhile confirmed a third case as a patient who worked in Parma, Italy, was hospitalized in Rijeka.
Croatia’s first two cases were brothers, one of whom caught the infection on a trip to Italy for a Champions League match, Health Minister Vili Beros told the state broadcaster HRT.
Further north, Finnish health authorities confirmed a second coronavirus case, a patient who had recently visited Milan in Italy’s Lombardy.
A second confirmed coronavirus case has been diagnosed in Sweden, the country’s health authorities said on Wednesday.
The patient was a man in his 30s who had returned from a visit to northern Italy a few days earlier, and become ill in Sweden, infectious disease physician Tomas Wahlberg told reporters.
Lithuania’s government in Vilnius, where no cases have yet been registered, announced a state of emergency to prevent the spread of the virus.
Other countries also adopted preventive measures, including Austria, where holy water was removed from receptacles in Salzburg cathedral and the administering of oral communion and the sharing of the sign of peace – shaking hands – during services have been suspended.
The European Union’s top health official meanwhile said the 27 countries of the bloc should rework their pandemic plans in light of the new coronavirus.
The EU is trying to coordinate its member states’ policies to ensure a joint response as the crisis spreads.
So far no EU state has requested a restriction of arrivals from members of the bloc’s border-free Schengen zone in order to limit the contagion.
“The EU is still in the containment phase, it is important to underline this,” EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides stressed after a meeting in Rome with her Italian counterpart, the director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the European head of the World Health Organization. (dpa)