A nurse wearing a sanitary mask watches from a window of the hospital of Codogno, near Lodi in Northern Italy, Friday, Feb. 21,2020. Health officials reported the country's first cases of contagion of COVID-19 in people who had not been in China. The hospital in Codogno is one of the hospitals - along with specialized Sacco Hospital in Milan - which is hosting the infected persons and the people that were in contact with them and are being isolated. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Italy sees virus cases quadruple in emerging cluster

February 21, 2020 - 12:34 pm

CODOGNO, Italy (AP) — Italian authorities say the number of people infected with the new virus from China has more than quadrupled due to an emerging cluster of cases in the country's north.

Many of the new cases represented the first infections in Italy acquired through secondary contagion and brought the country's total to 14 on Friday. The first to fall ill in northern Italy met with someone who had returned from China on Jan. 21 without presenting any symptoms of the new virus, health authorities said.

The 38-year-old Italian man is hospitalized in critical condition. The man's wife and a friend of his also tested positive for the virus. Three patients at the hospital where he went with flu-like symptoms a few days ago also have infections. Five nurses and doctors contracted the virus as well.

Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said Italy is now seeing the same sort of "cluster" of cases that Germany and France have seen.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

CODOGNO, Italy (AP) — Italian officials ordered schools, public buildings, restaurants and coffee shops closed in a tiny town in northern Italy Friday after six people tested positive for the new virus, including some who had not been to China or the source of the global health emergency.

The new cases represented the first infections in Italy acquired through secondary contagion and tripled the country's total to nine. The first to fall ill met with someone in early February who had returned from China on Jan. 21 without presenting any symptoms of the new virus, health authorities said.

Authorities think that person passed the virus onto the 38-year-old Italian, who went to a hospital in the town of Codogno with flu-like symptoms on Feb. 18 but was sent home. He returned to the hospital after his conditions worsened and is now in intensive care, Lombardy region public welfare director Giulio Gallera said.

The man’s wife and a friend who did sports with him have also tested positive for the virus. The Italian Health Ministry ordered anyone who came into direct contact with the three to be quarantined for 14 days. About 150 people, including medical personnel, were in isolation undergoing tests.

Another three people in the Lombardy region also tested positive Friday, the health ministry said later.

The mayor of Codogno issued a decree ordering the closure of all restaurants, coffee bars, schools and public gathering spots such as discos and gyms. The Health Ministry advised area residents to stay home as a precaution.

Local officials in another town, Casalpusterlengo, ordered local schools closed through Tuesday. A third town, Castiglione d’Adda, said its libraries, public offices, gyms and garbage depots would be closed as a health precaution.

"In other parts of the world, and also in China, it has been demonstrated that this system (of self-isolation) helps in a substantial way to block the spread,” Lombardy regional president Attilio Fontana said. “But we must not let ourselves be overcome by panic."

The Codogno hospital closed its emergency room, and staff were seen wearing masks as movers brought in new beds and furniture as the quarantine got under way. The manager who traveled to China remains asymptomatic but was put into isolation at another hospital, Gallera said.

Rome’s infectious disease hospital is currently caring for three other people who were infected, including a Chinese couple from hard-hit Wuhan and an Italian who is now testing “persistently negative” for the virus after two weeks of anti-viral treatment.

Despite the calls for safeguards, Italians were having a hard time finding protective face masks. A sampling of Milan pharmacies reported selling out out weeks ago, as did a pharmacist in Codogno.

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Winfield reported from Rome.

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