Italian authorities have cancelled Venice’s famed carnival events in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus, as the number of infected persons in the country soared to at least 133.
Veneto regional Governor Luca Zaia said the shutdown will begin on Sunday evening.
Carnival, which draws tens of thousands of visitors to the lagoon city, would have run until Tuesday.
Authorities said three people in Venice have tested positive, all of them in their late 80s and who remain in hospital in critical condition. Nearly all of Italy’s cases are clustered in the north, including the north-east Veneto region.
Italians’ cherished Sunday routines – from football to church-going – were hit by the spread of the contagion. Sports events in the affected northern areas, including local children’s sports team practices and three Serie A matches, were cancelled.
Bishops in several dioceses in northern Italy issued directives that holy water fonts be kept empty, that communion wafers be placed in the hands of the faithful and not directly into their mouths by priests celebrating Mass, and that congregants refrain from shaking hands or exchanging kisses during the symbolic Sign of the Peace ritual.
In a coincidence, the Vatican official in charge of the office dealing with propagating the faith hails from one of the hardest-hit towns, Codogno. Archbishop Rino Fisichella, whose siblings live in the town, declined to dramatise the measures. “It’s obvious that we need to use all necessary prudence,” to avoid spreading the virus among the faithful, he said.
Italy’s first cases – that of a married Chinese couple who were on holiday in Rome – surfaced in early February.
To date, two deaths – of elderly persons in the north – have been reported.
In Lombardy, with 90 cases, so far the hardest-hit region, schools and universities were ordered to stay closed in coming days, and sporting events were cancelled. Lombardy’s ban on public events also extended to Masses in churches.
But in the south, thousands turned out in the port city of Bari for a Mass by visiting Pope Francis, who shook hands with the faithful during his public appearance.
Museums, schools, universities and other public venues were shutting in Venice and the rest of Veneto as well. The shutdown was expected to last until March 1 at least.
In Turin, the main city of the northern Piedmont region, three cases had been diagnosed, and a family-of-three were being tested for possible infection, authorities said.
That region had also announced closure of all schools and universities.