Codogno (Italy) (AFP)

Italy was the first country in Europe to introduce quarantine of cities by isolating eleven municipalities to fight the epidemic of Covid-19, which is also still on the rise in South Korea.

In northern Italy, around 52,000 people wake up on Sunday morning in areas where "neither entry nor exit will be allowed unless there is a special dispensation", as announced a few hours earlier by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte .

Closure of businesses and schools and universities, cancellation of cultural and sporting events, postponement of three football matches originally scheduled for Sunday (Inter-Sampdoria, Atalanta-Sassuolo and Hellas Verona-Cagliari): the Italian government is trying to put under cover part of Lombardy and Veneto and curb the epidemic like fear.

The first containment measure was issued for the 11 million inhabitants of Wuhan, a city in central China where the epidemic of viral pneumonia started in December.

In Italy, the home is in Codogno, near Milan. An AFP team saw strangely deserted streets there for a Saturday evening. "We are all afraid, but we are crossing our fingers, we hope everything will be fine," said Rosa, a pharmacy worker, the only type of establishment allowed to stay open. She now fears "supply problems in the coming days".

- 79 cases in Italy -

Conte warned that he could potentially use the military to monitor checkpoints. The legislative decree issued on Saturday provides for sanctions of up to three months' imprisonment for offenders.

In Italy, the most affected European country, there are a total of 79 patients to date, including three cases of contaminations known for weeks, contracted outside Italy. Two septuagenarians have succumbed to the disease in recent days.

In South Korea, two more deaths have been linked to the epidemic, bringing the death toll to four, the Korean Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) announced on Sunday morning.

There are 123 new patients, for a total of 556. A hundred cases are linked to a hospital in Cheongdo, a city where the Church of Shincheonji of Jesus is very represented.

Hundreds of members of this Christian sect are now infected. The contagion began with a 61-year-old woman who had a fever on February 10 and attended at least four religious services in the city of Daegu before being diagnosed with coronavirus.

Daegu, the fourth city in South Korea with 2.5 million inhabitants, and Cheongdo, birthplace of Lee Man-hee, the founder of the Church of Shincheonji of Jesus, are close to each other. They were declared Friday as "special management areas" by the South Korean authorities.

The epidemic has entered a "serious phase and the government is doing everything to prevent the spread," said Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun in a speech on Saturday evening.

- Risks of expansion -

In China, the toll reached Sunday 2,442 deaths after the announcement of 97 additional deaths, all except one in the central province of Hubei, cradle of the new coronavirus.

The vast majority of new deaths have been recorded in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei.

The National Commission (Ministry) of Health has also reported 648 new confirmed cases of contamination throughout the country, bringing to nearly 77,000 the total of contaminations in mainland China (except Hong Kong and Macao).

It is the expansion outside of China that is raising concerns.

The World Health Organization (WHO) thus fears "the potential of dissemination of Covid-19 in countries with more precarious health systems", warned its director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

This is the case of many African countries whose health infrastructures and medical personnel are ill-prepared to face the epidemic. For the moment, on the continent, only Egypt has recorded a confirmed case of contamination.

A study released Friday by the Center for Infectious Diseases at Imperial College London "estimates that about two-thirds of Covid-19 cases from China have gone undetected globally, with the potential result of multiple chains not being detected of human transmission outside China ".

And precautions are sometimes lacking: Japan acknowledged on Saturday that 23 passengers of the Diamond Princess had been able to leave this quarantined cruise ship in Yokohama without going through all the required medical checks.

The epidemic has also sparked a passing of arms between the United States and Russia. US officials told AFP that thousands of Russian social media accounts were spreading anti-American misinformation about the new coronavirus. Moscow has denied.

© 2020 AFP