Italy’s Democratic Party Head Tests Positive for Coronavirus

(Bloomberg) -- The head of Italy’s Democratic Party said he’s tested positive for the coronavirus, as his government prepares new measures including extending quarantine areas to deal with the outbreak, the biggest in Europe.

“I am fine and will remain at home for the next few days,” Nicola Zingaretti, 54, said in a post on Facebook. His center-left party is the second-biggest in Italy’s coalition government.

Among the steps being considered is an expansion of the quarantine area near Milan in the northern region of Lombardy and the creation of a new so-called “red zone” near the town of Bergamo. With Italy’s economy already at risk of recession before the outbreak, the crisis has all but paralyzed business activity in Lombardy -- home to major companies including carmaker Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.

The government decided on Thursday to double emergency spending to 7.5 billion euros ($8.4 billion) to help cushion the economic impact of the virus. It’s also calling up 20,000 doctors, nurses and medical personnel to help deal with the outbreak. Fallout from the spread is slamming Italy’s key tourism industry at a time when the country was already teetering on the brink of recession.

The number of fatalities has risen to 233, with total cases increasing to 5,883, the third-highest in the world after China and South Korea. Civil protection chief Angelo Borrelli said the jump in the number of currently infected patients was in part due to more than 300 cases in the Lombardy region dating over several days from a laboratory in the town of Brescia that had not been counted previously.

One case was diagnosed Friday in the Vatican -- the tiny walled city-state in central Rome that is home to Pope Francis and “emeritus” Pope Benedict XVI.

Italy’s Democratic Party Head Tests Positive for Coronavirus

Pope Francis will not celebrate Sunday’s weekly Angelus prayer from the window of the Apostolic Palace as he usually does, the Vatican said in a statement.

Francis will instead hold the event from the library in the palace, to avoid the risk of the coronavirus spreading among people queuing for security checks to access St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican said. The event will be relayed on giant screens and by streaming.

Andrea Orlando, the Democratic Party’s deputy-secretary, said he would take a coronavirus test, according to newswire Ansa. Orlando will effectively take over temporarily as party leader, Ansa said, even though Zingaretti said that he could carry on his task from isolation at home. Zingaretti’s staff as well as party figures in contact with him over recent days are also having tests, and the party headquarters in central Rome may be closed.

Italy this week shut down schools and universities until March 15, following similar measures taken by Hong Kong and Japan, which is enforcing a complete school shutdown due to last until April.

As many as 8.7 million Italian children and students are affected from kindergarten to high schools, as well as their families. Many in the afflicted regions, from Milan to Venice and Bologna, are already confined at home. Schools in Northern Italy have been closed since Feb. 24.

Italy’s Democratic Party Head Tests Positive for Coronavirus

Italy also suspended sports competitions, closed cinemas and theaters, and banned people from accompanying patients in hospital emergency rooms. Elderly people were advised to avoid leaving home and to keep away from crowded areas.

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