France warns against travel to Covid-19 areas of Italy

Italy has become the worst-affected country in Europe so far

People living in France with plans to travel to the areas of Italy affected by virus Covid-19 have been advised to postpone their journeys if possible, and self-quarantine if they have been in contact.

[Coronavirus in France - Update at 11h:] 

France has confirmed that one French person - a 60-year-old man - died of the virus overnight. In addition to this, two new cases have been confirmed in France.

One, a 55-year-old man, is in "a serious condition" in Amiens (Somme, Hauts-de-France). An investigation is underway as to how he caught the virus.

The other, a 36-year-old man who had just returned from visiting Lombardy, has been confirmed in Strasbourg (Bas-Rhin, Grand Est). He has no serious symptoms.

Both patients have been hospitalised and quarantined locally.

In total, 17 cases of the virus have been confirmed in France. There have been two deaths.

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Junior transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said: “For those who were planning to go to the most-affected areas of Italy, and who are able to postpone their trip, please do so.”

Anyone who has travelled to the affected areas, or been in direct contact with anyone who has been in the areas, should immediately “observe an individual quarantine, limit social contacts, figure out working-from-home with your employer - in short, guard against all non-essential contact”.

The main areas of Italy that have been affected are the north - including Lombardy and Veneto - parts of Tuscany, and Sicily. The country has become Europe’s worst-affected country, with more than 300 confirmed cases of the virus, and 11 deaths so far.

These areas are on “orange alert”, as are Hong Kong and Macau - whereas the original epicentre of the virus, Wuhan in China, is still the only “red zone”.

Mr Djebbari said: “There are levels of measures. In the transport world, this is all well-organised. So we start with information measures, then prevention measures to build up stocks of masks.

“And then later we may have restrictions for businesses - which could, at the request of the government - be enacted. We must remain humble in the face of a situation that is constantly evolving.”

No cancellations or closed borders

Yet, French health minister Olivier Véran said this week that he had not yet seen any “scientific or medical argument” that would justify cancelling major events in France, such as Paris Fashion Week or football matches.

In Italy, some football matches have been cancelled due to the outbreak.

But Mr Véran said such measures were not necessary in France, referring specifically to the Champions League match scheduled between Lyon and Turin Juventus today (Wednesday February 26) and Paris Fashion Week, which opened this week.

The minister also said that closing borders in France would “make no sense”, but that there were preparations in place that could be used if necessary.

He said: “We have many alerts. That’s normal, because the virus is at our gates. We are preparing all health monitoring and intervention systems, in towns and in hospitals.

“We are anticipating and adapting. [But] an epidemic is declared when you say, the virus is everywhere and we can’t get rid of it, we can’t identify all the ill people…right now, we are [only] in a pre-epidemic stage.

Speaking of Italy specifically, he said: “There are two geographic areas where we can find nearly all of the ill people. There is no trace of the virus outside of these zones. In Rome, today there are no infected people. It is not a zone that is considered to be on health alert.”

Mr Véran met European counterparts - including health ministers from Germany and Italy - in Rome this week, to discuss how to deal with the outbreak and commit to keeping borders open.

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