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Italy declares state of emergency over coronavirus

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Rome (AFP)

The Italian government declared a state of emergency on Friday to fast-track efforts to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus strain after two cases were confirmed in Rome.

Italy had said Thursday it was stopping all flights to and from China following the news that two Chinese tourists holidaying in Italy had tested positive for the virus.

The couple was being treated in isolation in Rome's Spallanzani infectious diseases institute.

The state of emergency, a fairly common procedure after natural disasters like earthquakes or floods, gives regional authorities special powers and cuts red tape. It will last six months, the government said.

An initial five million euros ($5.3 million) has been allocated to tackle the virus, according to Italian media.

Police sealed off the room where the couple had been staying at a hotel in the centre of the capital. Other Chinese tourists who had arrived in Italy as part of the same tour group were being tested for the virus.

A 42-year-old Romanian who had been working at the hotel was also admitted for tests, media reports said.

The couple reportedly arrived in Milan and then travelled to Rome, where they started showing symptoms on Wednesday.

"The patients are doing well, they're young and it's as if they have the flu," said Giuseppe Ippolito of Spallanzani hospital.

"They will remain in isolation for a few days," he told Italian radio.

"We're almost certain there are no other infections," he said.

"The virus isn't contagious during incubation," the doctor said.

The planes were also permitted to take off again with passengers who had been scheduled for the return leg.

The SARS-like virus epidemic which originated in the central Chinese city Wuhan has so far killed 213 people and spread to at least 18 countries.

The World Health Organization on Thursday declared it an international public health emergency.

Some 70 Italians still in Wuhan will likely be flown back on Monday, Italian media reported, before spending two weeks in quarantine.

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