Italy has confirmed that it will shut all schools from Thursday for 10 days as it battles to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
A total of 107 people have now been killed by the coronavirus in Italy, which has the most serious outbreak in Europe.
Prime Minister (PM) Giuseppe Conte said the health service risked being overwhelmed.
Most of the more than 3,000 cases are in the north but others have been confirmed in 19 of Italy’s 20 regions.
Globally about 3,200 people have died and more than 90,000 have been infected, the vast majority in China, where the virus emerged late last year.
The World Health Organization has so far stopped short of declaring a pandemic – an epidemic spreading across the world through local transmission – but on Wednesday Germany’s health minister said the coronavirus now met the definition.
“The situation is changing very quickly… What’s clear is that we have not yet reached the peak of the outbreak,” Jens Spahn said.
Confirmed cases have been reported in 81 countries, with Italy, Iran and South Korea emerging as hotspots outside China.
Italy is suffering: with cafes and hotels half-empty, the tourism sector here is predicted to lose £6.5bn (8.5bn).
Another town north of Milan could be placed in quarantine as cases there grow.
But the containment measures so far have failed to halt the spread – there’s now been the first death south of Rome.
And while the prime minister sounded a reassuring note in an address last night, fear of this crisis is deepening.
Mr Conte called on all Italians to “do their part”.
“We are in the same boat, whoever has the helm has the duty to indicate the route, we must make an extra effort, we must do it together,” he said.
Education Minister Lucia Azzolina said she hoped students would be able to resume classes as soon as possible.
“My commitment is to ensure that the essential public service, albeit from a distance, is provided to all our students,” she said.
Local media said health experts and Italy’s health ministry had been in favour of closing schools. -BBC