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Europe on Alert for Virus as Cases Rise From Italy to Spain

Laura Millan Lombrana and Charles Penty
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Italy Locks Down Rich North as Conte Tries to Contain Panic

(Bloomberg) -- Europe kicked into high alert as countries from Italy and Spain to France and Germany reported more cases of coronavirus, struggling to limit its spread.

Vast swathes of the Lombardy and Veneto regions of Italy, stretching from Milan to Venice, remained in a virtual lockdown. Spain kept about 700 guests confined to a Canary Islands hotel as they undergo tests, while France announced four new confirmed cases, including a 60-year-old Frenchman who died in a Paris hospital overnight. Greece reported its first case.

As of Wednesday, at least 14 people across the region had died from the disease, mostly in Italy, while more than 400 people have been infected, according to numbers compiled from national authorities.

Although small relative to the worldwide death toll of 2,771 and 81,233 confirmed cases, authorities in Europe are scrambling to find ways to contain the disease and businesses are counting the costs of its impact on economic activity. U.S. authorities are preparing for a potential outbreak, while mounting cases across the Middle East and Asia are raising the specter of a pandemic.

Stocks were flat in Europe and fell in Asia, while U.S. equities fluctuated, a day after the S&P 500 Index fell 3% to cap its worst two-day slide since 2015. Treasuries extended gains.

Italy, the European nation worst affected, is working on a package of measures to help sustain the economy after the virus claimed at least 12 lives and the number of cases rose to 400, mostly in the rich, industrial north.

In Spain, the total number of live cases has climbed to 10, with two each in Madrid and the Catalonia region, one in Valencia and another in Seville. The four others were on the Tenerife island hotel, the H10 Costa Adeje Palace. About 106 hotel guests who never had any contact with those infected and employees will be able to leave.

In France, which has so far reported two fatalities, most of the 18 confirmed cases have been treated and released from hospital.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday that new cases of the virus in NRW and Baden-Wuerttemberg states are a sign that Germany is “at the beginning of a Corona epidemic.” The country has 18 confirmed cases, according to the health ministry’s website.

Greece’s first coronavirus case is a 38-year-old woman in the northern city of Thessaloniki, the country’s second-largest city, who had recently returned from a trip to northern Italy.

Many of the cases across Europe seem to have links to Italy or with Italians. The outbreak in Italy was initially linked to a 38-year-old man who sought treatment at a hospital in the Lombardy region on Feb. 18. While there, he infected dozens of patients and medical staff, who then spread it further afield.

Tracking efforts initially focused on a friend of the man, a businessman who had returned from China, but tests proved negative and the origin of the contagion remains a mystery.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said his government will try to help businesses harmed by the outbreak in sectors from manufacturing to tourism, according to an interview with Corriere della Sera newspaper. About a third of Italy’s output comes from Lombardy and Veneto, the two most-hit regions.

As the fallout spread, Milan postponed its design week -- one of its busiest events with hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world -- from April to June.

The region’s other countries are also studying the economic impact of the spread of the virus. In Germany, the DIHK industry group said exporters in Europe’s biggest economy are already unsettled by events in Italy. The southern European nation is Germany’s fifth-largest trading partner with a volume of more than 125 billion euros ($136 billion).

“The impact on the German economy should not be underestimated,” Volker Treier, DIHK head of foreign trade, said in a statement.

In Austria, travel agents are in talks with trade unions on imposing reduced working hours on around 10,000 employees, the head of the commerce chamber WKO, Karlheinz Kopf, was quoted as saying by the Austria Press Agency. The travel agents’ business has “almost ground to a halt,” and bookings “plummeted dramatically,” Kopf said.

Still, for now European countries are not actively considering closing borders. Health ministers from Italy and neighboring countries meeting in Rome on Tuesday agreed that border closures aren’t currently an appropriate measure to stem the spread of the virus, Austrian Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said in a TV interview.

Health experts who briefed the ministers “said that this doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t help,” and sharing information and preventive measures are more important, Anschober said.

(Updates with new French case tally in eighth paragraph)

--With assistance from Tommaso Ebhardt, Boris Groendahl, Angeline Benoit, Paul Tugwell, Sotiris Nikas, Rudy Ruitenberg and Brian Parkin.

To contact the reporters on this story: Laura Millan Lombrana in Madrid at lmillan4@bloomberg.net;Charles Penty in Madrid at cpenty@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chad Thomas at cthomas16@bloomberg.net, Vidya Root, Iain Rogers

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