Schoolteacher Alessio Villarosa looks at his closed school in the small town of Bareggio near Milan, Italy February 29, 2020. Italian government has closed schools and universities in Lombardy and northern regions in order to prevent the spread of the highly infectious coronavirus. REUTERS/Yara Nardi
ROME (Reuters) – Schools and universities will stay closed for a second consecutive week in three northern Italian regions in an effort to contain Europe’s worst outbreak of coronavirus, dashing any hopes of a swift return to normality.
Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia Romagna have accounted for more than 90% of some 900 confirmed cases of the virus that have so far come to light in Italy, as well as all the 21 fatalities.
Looking to halt the spread of the highly infectious disease, the government last week banned public gatherings across much of northern Italy and shuttered educational centers.
The disease is concentrated in just a few areas and some locals had hoped that schools in places with few or no coronavirus cases could now re-open, but Stefano Bonaccini, the head of Emilia-Romagna, said this would not happen.
“The closure of nurseries, schools and universities is confirmed for next week for the three regions most affected: Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna,” he wrote on Facebook, saying the national science council had recommended the move.
The government is growing increasingly concerned about the economic impact of the virus, which has struck the industrial heartland of the euro zone’s third largest economy.
The REF Ricerche thinktank predicted on Saturday that the crisis might cause Italy’s already fragile economy to contract between 1% and 3% in the first two quarters of the year.
Italy’s hoteliers warned that a U.S. government advisory calling on Americans to reconsider non-essential travel to Italy could prove the “final blow” to the country’s embattled tourism sector, which has reported a wave of cancellations this week.
The cabinet introduce limited measures to help businesses in the so-called redzone — two areas of Lombardy and Veneto that are under quarantine — and has promised broader help for impacted companies in the coming days.
Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Mike Harrison and Clelia Oziel