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Virus cases in Italy soar by 40% in 24 hours; death toll rises to 34

Italian authorities announced Sunday that the number of people infected with the new coronavirus in Italy has risen 40 percent to 1,576 in 24 hours, while another five infected people have died.

That brings the number of people who have died from the virus in Italy to 34 since cases of the virus exploded February 21.

Health authorities say the increase is expected, since it takes as much as two weeks for the containment measures to take effect, and because Italy has a large number of elderly people. (sic!)

Lombardy, which includes Italy’s financial capital Milan, accounts for just over half of the cases while Veneto and Emilia-Romagna have 18% and 20%, respectively. All three regions have closed schools for the time being. In Veneto and Lombardy, closures also have hit museums, theaters, cinemas and most public offices, emptying urban centers like Milan, where many companies permitted office workers to telecommute.

Earlier Sunday, the French community church in Rome, St. Louis of the French, closed its doors to the public on after a priest was infected with coronavirus.

The church in the historic center of Rome is famous for three paintings by the Baroque master Caravaggio, making it a destination for tourists and the faithful alike. A sign on the door Sunday noted in French that the church had been closed as a precaution by the French Embassy for both mass and tourist visits until further notice.

The Religious Information Service news agency reported that the church was closed, after a 43-year-old priest who had returned to Paris was hospitalized after being infected by coronavirus. The service carried a statement by the archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, who said the priest, who had been living in Rome, returned to Paris by car in mid-February, and tested positive for the virus on Friday. The priest was in good condition, Aupetit said.

It was the first church in Rome closed by the virus. Churches in much of Veneto and Lombardy have closed their doors under widespread measures aimed at containing the spread of the virus. Televised masses were available for the faithful.

The number of countries hit by the coronavirus climbed past 60 Sunday, and infections and deaths continued to mount around the globe, emptying streets of tourists and workers, shaking economies and rewriting the realities of daily life.

Header: An Italian army soldier blocks off a road leading to the village of Vo’Euganeo, in Italy’s northern Veneto region, on February 28, 2020. (Claudio Fulan/LaPresse via AP)