First coronavirus deaths in Germany as Europe battles outbreak

Germany recorded its first two coronavirus deaths on Monday, as the authorities near Berlin imposed a mass quarantine in an attempt to slow the outbreak.

Both deaths occurred in the western state of North Rhine Westphalia, which has been the worst hit so far.

The first victim was an 89-year-old woman in the city of Essen, who was confirmed to have the coronavirus last week. Also on Monday, a 78-year-old man with pre-existing health conditions died in a hospital in the district of Heinsberg after contracting the virus.

After a suspected coronavirus case much further east in the state of Brandenburg, neighbouring Berlin, up to 5,000 people were in home quarantine, a local official told dpa.

The quarantine was imposed after teachers at a high school in Neustadt-Dosse, a town around 85 kilometres north-west of Berlin, had contact with a woman from the capital who tested positive for the new coronavirus.

The Robert Koch Institute, the official disease control institute, reported that Germany had 1,112 confirmed infections.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition earlier agreed a package of measures to bolster the economic defences of Europe’s largest economy against a deepening global crisis triggered by the virus.

The southern state of Bavaria meanwhile is planning to ban all events with more than 1,000 participants, sources told dpa.

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The German Football League said Bundesliga matches would go ahead as scheduled, but games could take place behind closed doors on the advice of local authorities.

In Europe, Germany is second only to Italy in terms of confirmed cases.

In Italy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Monday said the country was facing its “darkest hour,” in remarks to La Repubblica newspaper.

The Civil Protection Agency said that Italy had 9,172 cases, up from 7,375 the previous day, and that deaths had risen to 463. No other country apart from China has a higher death toll.

On Sunday, Conte restricted travel in and out of large parts of northern Italy, including Milan and Venice, to contain the outbreak. However, a rush out of the region after the decision was leaked may further spread the virus.

Christian Salaroli, an anesthesist in a hospital in Bergamo, told the Corriere della Sera newspaper that doctors are having to choose whom to treat first given the growing number of patients and limited resources.

The outbreak is moving towards a pandemic phase in which its international spread can no longer be controlled, the World Health Organization said on Monday. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus added, “the rule of the game is never give up.”

In France, 1,412 people are infected with the virus, where it has killed 25 people, General Director of Health Jerome Salomon said on Monday.

In Paris, two of the main candidates in Sunday’s municipal elections cancelled their final rallies in response to new government rules banning gatherings of more than 1,000 people.

France’s Interior Ministry encouraged vulnerable people and those in isolation to vote by proxy in the elections.

In eastern France, polling stations plan extra measures including frequent cleaning and the provision of disposable gloves.

The Grand Mosque of Paris on Monday said it would cancel Friday communal prayers until further notice to avoid spreading the virus.

Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire predicted the health crisis would severely impact the French economy and could take several tenths of a percentage point off gross domestic product.

The virus pushed into more corners of Europe on Monday, with Cypriot Health Minister Konstantinos Ioannou on Monday reported the country’s first two patients.

Albania also reported its first cases: a father and son who recently travelled to Italy.

In neighbouring Kosovo, which has no confirmed cases, the government acted upon a recommendation by its health authorities and cancelled flights to and from Italy.

Other countries introduced similar preventive measures.

On Monday, Croatia introduced a mandatory two-week quarantine for all people arriving from parts of Italy, China, Korea and Iran.

Slovenia’s authorities said in a few days, Ljubljana airport would start screening passengers’ temperatures, and protective measures on the Italian border are being considered, STA news agency reported.

Greece on Monday ordered the cancellation of flights to and from Emilia Romagna, Piemont, Lombardy and Venice through March 23.

The Finnish president’s office announced several measures on Monday, including holding meetings by video conference.

And Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki issued a “strong recommendation” to organizers of mass events to cancel them.

Key institutions in Europe are also feeling the effects of the virus after an employee at NATO’s Brussels headquarters tested positive for Covid-19, a spokesperson said.(dpa)

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