Europe battles coronavirus as Germany warns of 'start of an epidemic'

Europe scrambles to contain coronavirus: Germany warns of the ‘start of an epidemic’ as Denmark and Estonia confirm first cases

  • Nations including Denmark and Switzerland have linked their first cases to Italy
  • Italy has confirmed more than 400 cases of the virus with 12 people dead so far 
  • Germany warned of an ‘epidemic’ after a train was stopped in a scare yesterday 

Germany has warned of the ‘start of an epidemic’ as Europe scrambles to contain a coronavirus outbreak spreading from Italy across the continent.  

Denmark, Switzerland, Romania, North Macedonia and the city of Athens have all confirmed their first virus cases in the last two days – all of them linked to Italy. 

Supermarket shelves were empty in Italy and Romania as panicking shoppers rushed to prepare for a quarantine.  

In Germany yesterday a train was stopped for two hours with a fleet of emergency workers descending on a remote station after a passenger returning from Italy showed symptoms of the virus on board. 

The country’s health minister Jens Spahn warned yesterday that ‘we are at the beginning of a coronavirus epidemic in Germany’. 

Alarm: A fleet of emergency workers and a halted train at Idar-Oberstein station in Germany yesterday after a passenger showed possible virus symptoms 

Empty shelves: Supermarkets were stripped of supplies in Romania (pictured) as panic-buying shoppers rushed to prepare for a coronavirus quarantine 

Protection: Passengers on Milan’s metro wear masks in the carriage yesterday with northern Italy at the centre of Europe’s coronavirus outbreak 

Denmark confirmed its first case of the virus early today, saying a man who returned from a skiing trip in northern Italy had tested positive. 

‘The man who came back from a skiing trip with his wife and son on February 24 has been suffering since then from a cough and a temperature,’ Denmark’s public health agency said.

‘The man tested positive, but the results of his wife and son are negative,’ it said.

The man is relatively well and has returned to his home, where he remains in isolation with his family, officials say.

The virus has also spread from Italy to Switzerland, where a man in his 70s from the Italian-speaking region of Ticino has been taken to hospital. 

The man was infected near Milan where he attended an event on February 15, federal health office chief Pascal Strupler told reporters. 

‘His state of health is good,’ the health office said in a statement, adding that the risk of contagion for Switzerland as a whole remained only ‘moderate’.

But it also said that, because of the proximity to Italy, ‘the probability is growing that other cases will be diagnosed’. 

The government said on Monday that it had stepped up testing on patients with flu-like symptoms and was working to raise awareness at all border points. 

Italian football fans wear masks during a Champions League match in France last night, where French side Lyon played Turin team Juventus 

An empty freezer drawer at a supermarket in Romania, which confirmed its first case on Wednesday – a man who was in contact with an Italian who visited the country last week

An Italian sanitation worker cleans a Venice water bus yesterday, with the province of Veneto one of the worst-affected regions of Italy 

Romania reported its first case on Wednesday – a man who was in contact with an Italian who visited the country last week.

North Macedonia had its first case yesterday, after a woman who had returned from a month in Italy was found to be infected with the virus. 

In Greece, Athens announced its first infection on Wednesday, a woman aged 38 who had recently returned from northern Italy.

The Greek government said that in the event of a mass outbreak, it would activate temporary restrictions on travel to and from countries with a large number of infections as well as temporarily close schools, places of worship, cinemas, theatres, sports halls and businesses. 

Estonia also confirmed its first case today, although that was believed to be linked to Iran – another coronavirus hotspot – rather than Italy. 

Italy has confirmed more than 400 cases of the virus with the death toll now at 12 and 50,000 people living under an armed lockdown in northern towns. 

EU leaders have rejected calls to shut down border crossings but a number of countries have said people may need to isolate themselves if they return from Italy. 

In Spain, hundreds of tourists are beginning a two-week quarantine at a Tenerife hotel after an Italian doctor brought the virus to the complex. 

The doctor, his wife and two more Italians who travelled with them tested positive for the virus after staying at the Canary Islands resort.  

Five other cases have been detected in mainland Spain in the last 24 hours – one in the Valencia region, two in the Madrid region and another two in Catalonia.  

One was a a 22-year-old Spanish man who recently returned from Milan and who tested positive for coronavirus on Wednesday, local health authorities said. 

Quarantine in Spain: Two hotel guests wearing masks wave from the window of the Tenerife resort yesterday where holidaymakers will have to stay put for 14 days 

People wearing masks walk in front of the closed Duomo cathedral as they cross a mostly deserted square in Milan 

Spain on Wednesday issued assurances that a cluster of new coronavirus infections did not risk a broader spread, after ten cases were detected since Monday evening.

Spanish health minister Salvador Illa has advised people not to travel to northern Italy and other global hotspots for the disease such as Wuhan in China, South Korea, Japan and Iran. 

In Germany, a passenger train was held up for around two hours in the town of Idar-Oberstein, German media said. 

A middle-aged man who had recently been in Italy on business was wearing a mask and showing possible virus symptoms – sparking alarm on board the train. 

The man was eventually taken to hospital for tests, the results of which are due back today, while other passengers continued their journeys. 

Germany has confirmed 21 cases, after a 47-year-old man with the virus was taken to hospital in serious condition in Düsseldorf and his wife also tested positive. 

Officials said the infected man was from Gangelt, near the Dutch border, and that he had been in contact with countless people in recent days, including during Carnival parties and while visiting a Cologne hospital for an unrelated health checkup. 

At least eight schools in the UK have closed while others have sent pupils home amid fears they may have been exposed to coronavirus during trips to northern Italy.

However, Public Health England (PHE) said that its general advice is not to close schools – a message echoed by health secretary Matt Hancock.

The closures come after travellers returning to the UK from northern Italy were told they may need to self-isolate as part of measures to stop the spread of illness. 

In London, energy firm Chevron asked about 300 British employees to work temporarily from home after an employee in its Canary Wharf office reported a flu-like illness. 

The scene at Idar-Oberstein station in Germany yesterday where emergency crews descended on a train where a passenger had reported possible virus symptoms 

Milan metro passengers wearing masks yesterday, with more than 400 coronavirus cases now confirmed in Italy 

France has so far registered 18 infections and two deaths, and has urged its nationals to delay any plans to visit virus hotspots in northern Italy. 

Students returning from China, Singapore, South Korea and the Italian regions of Lombardy and Venice are being asked to remain at home for two weeks after their return. 

In Italy there are fears of excessive panic with psychiatrists saying there have been concerning signs in some aspects of public behaviour.

Rome-based psychiatrist Rossella Candela points to the empty shelves in supermarkets due to panic buying as one example.

‘Certain people adapt. But others react as if they were under bombardment in the Second World War,’ she said.

The rush to buy face masks – which have now all but sold out in pharmacies in the country’s north – is part of the phenomenon, she says.  

While authorities are trying to reassure the population, it’s difficult to combat fear when one is confronted by ‘something intangible, invisible, like a virus,’ says psychologist Gabriele Zanardi in Pavia to the south of Milan.

He says that the most worried seem to be outside the areas most heavily affected, as they haven’t experienced the reality of the outbreak.

As a result of the invisible nature of the condition, ‘people try to put a face to this invisible enemy, be it a Chinese person, someone with a cold,’ Zanardi says.

Milan’s Chinatown has been deserted for three days.

In a region governed by former interior minister Matteo Salvini’s far-right League, many Chinatown business owners have avoided ostracisation by closing shops and restaurants.

In Turin, after the first death from the outbreak was announced, a 40-year-old Chinese woman was attacked in the street by strangers who shouted: ‘You have the virus, go away or I’ll kill you.’ 

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