ROME (Reuters) - Italy declared a six-month state of emergency on Friday over the new coronavirus, allowing the government to cut through red tape quickly if needed, after two Chinese tourists tested positive for the illness in the first cases detected in the country.
The move, which will have no impact on people’s everyday lives but will enable authorities to take rapid decisions if needed, follows a decision to stop all flights to and from China as a precautionary measure.
The two tourists, a 67-year-old woman and a 66-year-old man, came from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus, and fell ill during their trip to Italy.
They had been staying in a hotel in central Rome and are now being treated in an isolation unit at the city’s Spallanzani Hospital, which specialises in infectious diseases and viruses.
“They are in a reasonable condition,” the hospital said, adding that 12 other Chinese citizens had been placed under observation in the hospital.
A further 20 people who had come into contact with the ill Chinese couple since their arrival in Italy on Jan. 23 were also under observation but showed no sign of illness.
The number of confirmed cases in China has risen beyond 9,800, while more than 130 cases have been reported in two dozen other countries and regions. More than 200 people have died in China.
Italy is the latest major European country to be hit by the virus, with cases also confirmed in Britain, France and Germany. Concern over the illness has led to some drastic measures in some places.
Photographs on social media showed a sign in a Rome restaurant saying Chinese guests were not welcome because of “international safety measures”.
The Santa Cecilia Conservatory, Rome’s leading music school, has banned all students from eastern Asia, not just China, from courses until they can provide medical certificates to prove they are well.
The government’s flight ban is already operational and will remain in force until further notice, but passengers onboard the flights that had already taken off when the ban was issued have been authorised to land in Milan and Rome.
The government is arranging a special flight to evacuate some 80 Italian citizens from Wuhan, which is due to arrive in Italy on Monday morning.
Reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Frances Kerry