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Coronavirus: Italy closes schools and universities as death toll rises

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Italy has announced it will close all schools and universities for a week and a half in a bid to contain the spread of coronavirus as the death toll in the country rose to 107.

The nation’s minister for education Lucia Azzolina confirmed all educational centres would be closed from Thursday to 15 March.

The closures are part of a string of measures to contain the virus announced on Wednesday, including an order to hold all sporting events behind closed doors until 3 April.

Speaking alongside PM Giuseppe Conte, she said:  “I hope pupils can return to school as soon as possible … my commitment is to ensure that the essential public service, albeit from a distance, is provided to all our students”​.

Mr Conte added the government was doing all it could to contain the virus, noting that the nation’s health service risked being overwhelmed due to the high number of infected people.

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 3,000 people across the country – with more than 500 cases announced in 24 hours.

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 1m (yard) to be respected”.

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

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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.

It is accompanied by South Korea and Iran as growing hubs for the spread of the virus as rates in China begin to subside. The site of more than 80,000 cases and almost 3,000 deaths, Beijing announced only 130 new cases over the last 24 hours to Seoul’s 516.

Tehran, which has been accused of covering up the infection rate in the country, announced  an increase of around 600 cases.

In Europe, Hungary and Slovenia are among those to announce first instances of the virus, which carries a global death toll of 3,2020 deaths. France, which has closed 120 schools, has seen its case number jump to 285 while Germany observed a further 43 infections.

Meanwhile the US congress began to race through a $8.3bn funding package to support prevention efforts after two more people died to bring the nation’s death toll to 11 with more than 100 people infected.

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