Coronavirus: Italy set to close schools and universities as death toll rises

Coronavirus: Italy set to close schools and universities as death toll rises

Classrooms across country to close for weeks in bid to contain outbreak

Italy is set to ban public events and close all schools and universities in a bid to contain the spread of coronavirus, as the death toll in the country rose to 79.

(independent)–The government ordered classrooms across the country to shut until mid-March, news agencies including Ansa and the state-run RAI reported.

Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte reportedly agreed the closures during a cabinet meeting, although the country’s education minister said a final decision had not yet been confirmed.

Schools and universities in the worst-affected regions of northern Italy, where a handful of towns have been quarantined, had already closed 10 days ago.

But the outbreak has since spread to infect more than 2,500 people in the country.

The government is set to close cinemas and theatres and ban public events across the country, according to a draft decree drawn up on Wednesday.

The decree, seen by Reuters, orders “the suspension of events of any nature… that entail the concentration of people and do not allow for a safety distance of at least one metre (yard) to be respected”.

It also tells Italians to avoid hugging and shaking hands in the hope of limiting the spread of coronavirus.

The Italian sports minister has said all Serie A football matches are likely to be played behind closed doors for the next month as part of efforts to stem the epidemic.

“We are heading towards that decision,” sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora told reporters when asked if the government was planning to ban fans from attending games.

Italy has become the European epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak after seeing an explosion of cases since its first patient tested positive on 19 February.

In the early days of the outbreak, officials closed schools in Lombardy and Veneto, two of the hardest-hit reigions. Over the weekend, schools in Emilia Romagna were also told to shut.