• The country has put at least a dozen towns under lockdown, cancelled public events in major regions, and has debated closing its open borders with neighbouring countries.
  • Other European countries are worried about how it could spread. Austria temporarily closed its rail services and France is monitoring people coming in from Italy.
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Italy is scrambling to counter an outbreak of the coronavirus, after a sharp spike in cases and deaths made it the worst-infected country outside of Asia.

As of Monday afternoon, five people in Italy had died from the disease, and 215 cases had been reported.

The country has put at least a dozen towns on lockdown in the hope of containing the spread.

The coronavirus has spread to more than six regions in the country as of Monday morning, The Associated Press reported.

The two most infected regions are Lombardy and Veneto, both in the north of Italy and home to the major cities of Milan and Venice.

People wearing sanitary masks walk past the Duomo gothic cathedral in Milan, Italy, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. A dozen Italian towns saw daily life disrupted after the deaths of two people infected with the virus from China and a pair of case clusters without direct links to the outbreak abroad. A rapid spike in infections prompted authorities in the northern Lombardy and Veneto regions to close schools, businesses and restaurants and to cancel sporting events and Masses. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
People wearing sanitary masks walk past the Duomo gothic cathedral in Milan, Italy, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. A dozen Italian towns saw daily life disrupted after the deaths of two people infected with the virus from China and a pair of case clusters without direct links to the outbreak abroad. A rapid spike in infections prompted authorities in the northern Lombardy and Veneto regions to close schools, businesses and restaurants and to cancel sporting events and Masses. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
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Neither are far from Italy's open borders with neighboring countries in the Europe like Austria, Switzerland, and Slovenia.

215 cases had been recorded in Italy as of Monday afternoon, according to data compiled by researchers at John Hopkins University said . This makes Italy the nation with the highest number of cases outside of Asia.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced an emergency plan to quarantine towns late on Saturday , putting a lockdown on a dozen towns by blocking most travel to and from them.

Around 50,000 people were asked to stay at home by authorities as part of the quarantine, and armed guards are able to enforce the lockdown.

The virus has also prompted the cancelation of the annual Venice carnival and closure of some major landmarks.

Fashion house Giorgio Armani held its runway show at Milan Fashion Week in an empty theater to stop the virus spreading.

Attilio Fontana, the governor of the Lombardy region, was preparing an order on Sunday to suspend public events, cancel school, and close public places like museums, a statement said .

Matteo Salvini, the former deputy prime minister of the country and the head of its far-right League party, called for the country's borders to be closed, but Conte dismissed the idea at a Saturday press conference.

"I don't think the conditions for such a move exist at this point," Conte said, Politico reported .

France warned anyone visiting Lombardy and Veneto regions to wear face masks, regularly check their temperature, and avoid non-essential travel, the AP reported.

Officials in France and Austria are monitoring their borders for visitors from Italy who could potentially be carrying the virus, according to the AP . Ireland has also advised its citizens not to travel to affected areas of Italy.

italy giuseppe conte government
italy giuseppe conte government
REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Romania's health ministry on Sunday said that all Romanian citizens coming back from Lombardy and Veneto would be quarantined for 14 days, Politico reported .

Austria temporarily halted rail traffic across its border with Italy, but later recommenced it.

In Europe, cases have also been recorded in Germany, UK, France, Spain, Belgium, Sweden, and Finland, but all have only a handful of confirmed patients each, and in some cases only one.

The coronavirus has now infected more than 70,000 people in China, and has spread to at least 29 other countries.

The World Health Organization warned over the weekend that the window of opportunity to contain the virus is narrowing.

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