Codogno: Italian authorities on Sunday cancelled all remaining events at the world-famous Venice Carnival in an effort to halt the spread of coronavirus infections.
Italy, which has the highest number of infections outside of Asia, has moved to clamped down on public gatherings, including postponing some Serie A football fixtures and restricting access to some Milan Fashion Week shows.
Carnival, which draws tens of thousands of revellers to a region that is now in the heart of the country's coronavirus outbreak, should have run through until Tuesday.
Museums, schools, universities and other public venues will be shut in Venice and throughout the Veneto region until at least March 1.
Buses, trains and other forms of public transport – including boats and gondolas in Venice - were being disinfected, Veneto's Governor, Luca Zaia, said.
Authorities said three people in Venice had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, all of them are their late 80s and in a critical condition in hospital.
Italy's move to try and limit the spread mirrors action taken elsewhere in the world, including South Korea, which has raised its alert level.
Also on Sunday, French Health Minister Olivier Veran said that authorities there were getting ready for a possible outbreak in France.
In an interview published in the Sunday newspaper Le Parisien, he said he was monitoring very closely the situation, including in neighbouring Italy, and did not discount a "pandemic" situation evolving.
France has already recorded the first coronavirus death outside Asia after an 80-year-old Chinese tourist died in Paris.
Nearly all of Italy's 133 cases are clustered in the north, at least 25 of them in Veneto.
Neigbouring Lombardy, with 90 cases, so far the hardest-hit region. There schools and universities have been ordered to stay closed and sporting events have been cancelled. Lombardy's ban on public events also extended to Masses in churches in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.
Authorities expressed frustration they haven't been able to track down the source – or Patient Zero – of the spread of the virus in the north. The outbreak surfaced last week when an Italian man in Codogno in his late 30s became critically ill.
At first, it was presumed that the man was infected by an Italian friend who recently returned from Shanghai. When the friend tested negative for the virus, attention turned to several Chinese who live in town and who frequent the same cafe as the stricken man. But Lombardy's Governor Attilio Fontana told reporters all of those Chinese tested negative, too.
The same restrictions on public gatherings have not been applied in the south of the country where thousands turned out in the port city of Bari on Sunday to see Pope Francis.
In Turin, the main city of the northern Piedmont region, three cases have been diagnosed, and a family of three were being tested for possible contagion, authorities said. That region also announced closure of all schools and universities.
People were urged to stay indoors in Lombardy and Veneto, but while a lock-down of many small towns had been announced on Saturday, police at the entrance to Codogno, one of the hardest-hit towns, weren't stopping cars entering or leaving .
Italy's first cases – that of a married Chinese couple who were on vacation in Rome – surfaced in early February.
To date, two deaths – of elderly people in the north – have been reported among the 133 cases.
Bishops in several dioceses in northern Italy issued directives that holy water fonts be kept empty, that communion wafers be placed in the hands of the faithful and not directly into their mouths by priests celebrating Mass and that congregants refrain from shaking hands or exchanging kisses during the symbolic Sign of the Peace ritual.