The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has now spread to Europe with Italy being the hardest hit so far. The death toll has risen to 11 and another 323 people are confirmed as having been infected with the virus, thought to have originated in Wuhan, China. The fatalities in Italy were to people with other pre-existing medical issues or who were elderly.

Rome’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told reporters, “We trust that we can quickly achieve a result of containment of the contagion from the coronavirus.” He called the outbreak a “health emergency that must anyway be tackled rationally” and expressed confidence that stern measures would prove effective in Lombardi and Veneto, the location of the two Italian viral clusters.  

Ironically, European health ministers were meeting in Rome on Tuesday when other new COVID-19 cases in Europe were confirmed:

  • In Algeria, the first confirmed case was an Italian man who arrived in the North African country on Feb. 17, the state television reported.
  • Germany’s state Health Ministry said a 25-year-old man living tested positive after a trip to Milan in Italy.
  • A 24 year-old-woman and her boyfriend, both from Lombardi, tested positive and are being isolated in Innsbruck, Austria. The local health authorities reported that they are no longer running a fever.
  • In Croatia, a young man who had been in Milan was the country’s first COVID-19 case as confirmed by Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, according to state broadcaster HRT. He was described as a young man who visited Milan last week.
  • Switzerland’s national health authority said a person tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
  • A Spanish visitor to northern Italy who had returned to Barcelona tested positive and will undergo further tests, according to the Health Ministry.   
  • Spanish television reported that a hotel in the Spanish Canary Islands with about 1,000 guests was placed under quarantine after one guest tested positive. That guest was from Lombardy.

China is now an isolated country with closed borders, but European health ministers pledged to keep their borders open. Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza said, “We’re talking about a virus that doesn’t respect borders.”

Germany’s Health Minister Jens Spahn, who was at the Rome meeting with Italy’s PM, said they were “taking the situation very, very seriously” and added, “The coronavirus has reached Europe for the first time in a situation where we don’t understand every chain of infection and they can’t be connected directly to China. This means we have a new situation to deal with. I have said it could get worse before it gets better, and this assessment still stands.”

More talks are scheduled in Rome for Wednesday and one hot topic will be the possibility that the COVID-19 has other sources of origin other than Wuhan, China. That would make the road to containment significantly more complex.