There is at present no need to close down the Schengen area of border-free movement because of the Covid-19 virus, according to Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte, speaking yesterday in Brussels.
Conte was speaking as the Italian authorities announced they were closing down bars, schools and other public buildings in some towns in the north of the country for public health reasons.
Meanwhile Italy has announced the second fatal case of Covid infection, a woman in the northern region of Lombardy. No further details are available at present.
This is the second death in Italy from the virus, after a 78-year-old man died in the northern city of Padua in Veneto region.
On Friday, Italian public health authorities recorded 16 cases of infection in Lombardy region, and two more in neighbouring Veneto. Since then, the total number of those infected has climbed to 30.
Meanwhile authorities have closed down public buildings and other places where people gather in towns in the north of the country to try to halt the spread of the infection.
Worryingly, the man who was the first case of infection registered had not himself been to China, but had been in contact with a woman who was there in January. The 38-year-old man, Italy’s Patient Zero, is currently in intensive care.
The infection is now apparently being spread by a second circle of those infected. Two other patients, the wife of Patient Zero and a friend, had also never been to China. If that spread is allowed to continue, then an epidemic in Europe is a logical next development.
Nonetheless, the Italian prime minister, in Brussels this week for an EU budget summit, said there was as yet no reason to reintroduce border controls removed with the Schengen agreement.
Lombardy has a border with Switzerland and Austria, while Veneto has a short land border only with Slovenia. All three neighbouring states are members of the Schengen area.
The three areas most affected by the closures of public buildings, at Codogno, Castiglione d’Adda and Casalpusterlengo, are all in the province of Lodi south-east of Milan, about 120km from the nearest border.