The coronavirus has hit Italy with alarming speed, with case numbers expanding to over 200 in a matter of days in the northern region and spreading.
Officials are unsure how the virus reached the country, as they scramble to find ways to contain further spread.
Four days ago, Italy had only three confirmed cases of the virus. Now, it has the largest known outbreak outside Asia, pushing the world closer to a pandemic, in which epidemics spread across multiple countries and continents at the same time.
The arrival of the virus in Italy brings questions about whether a democratic government will impose restrictions. If the virus continues to expand, the open-border policy of Europe will be scrutinized in attempts to contain the virus.
In recent days, Italy has scrambled to close off a cluster of small towns south of Milan, some of the primary hot spots. Police have set up checkpoints outside those areas, and only people with special permission can enter or exit. Video from inside those towns showed largely deserted town centers, except for the occasional person walking a dog or searching for a mini market to buy groceries. One church, where a funeral was scheduled, allowed only family members inside.
Across the north, schools, churches and sports have been called off.
Italian authorities originally thought the virus came to the country through a businessman returning from China who met with others in Milan. Subsequent testing showed that he never carried the virus. Officials identified one of the earliest confirmed cases as a man who was socially active in a marathon running event and in local bars. He spread the virus to his wife and to some health care workers where he was treated. Officials theorize that the ground zero source returned from an endemic country undetected.
See Washington Post.