CODOGNO, Italy — Scrambling to contain rapidly soaring number of new coronavirus infections in northern Italy, authorities on Sunday stepped up measures to ban public gatherings, including stopping Venice's famed carnival events, which has drawn tens of thousands of revelers to a region that is now in the heart of the outbreak.
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- SEE BELOW: Coronavirus Blamed for Low Voter Turnout in Iran ▼
- SEE BELOW: Amid Virus Fears, Moscow Targets Chinese ▼
"The ordinance is immediately operative and will go into effect at midnight,″ announced Veneto regional Gov. Luca Zaia, whose area includes Venice. Carnival, which draws tens of thousands of visitors to the lagoon city, would have run through Tuesday. Museums, schools, universities and other public venues will be shut as well in Venice and the rest of Veneto. The shutdown is expected to last at least through March 1.
Authorities said three people in Venice have tested positive, all of them in their late 80s and who are hospitalized in critical condition. Nearly all of Italy's 133 cases are clustered in the north, including in the Veneto region.
The biggest jump in cases of confirmed COVID-19 was reported by authorities in Lombardy, a populous region, which includes the country's financial capital, Milan. That region had at least 89 cases, nearly all of them in small towns in the countryside.
Italy's first cases — that of a married Chinese couple who were on vacation in Rome — surfaced in early February.
To date, two deaths — of elderly persons in the north — have been reported among the 133 cases.
In Iran, the coronavirus is blamed for low voter turnout.
Iran's interior ministry on Sunday said voter turnout in last week's parliamentary elections stood at 42.57 percent, the lowest ever since the country's 1979 revolution that ushered in a Shiite clerical government to power.
The lower turnout is widely seen as a measure of how Iranians view the country's government and signals possible widespread dissatisfaction with Iran's clerical rulers and the system they preside over.
In comparison, turnout was nearly 62 percent in the 2016 elections. Turnout has consistently been above 50 percent since the country's revolution some four decades ago.
Iran's supreme leader and other senior officials had urged people to cast their ballots on Friday as a show of resistance in the face of U.S. pressure and sanctions that have plunged the economy into recession.
Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said the lowest turnout from the vote was is the capital, Tehran, with just 25.4 percent of eligible voters casting ballots. He said the country voted under less-than-ideal circumstances, but nevertheless, "we believe that the number of votes and the turnout is absolutely acceptable."
The elections took place under the threat of the coronavirus, which has killed eight people in Iran and infected 43 people across five cities, including Tehran. Iran reported its first case of the virus two days before the national polls.
Meanwhile, bus drivers in Moscow kept their WhatsApp group chat buzzing with questions this week about what to do if they spotted passengers who might be from China riding with them in the Russian capital.
"Some Asian-looking (people) have just got on. Probably Chinese. Should I call (the police)?" one driver messaged his peers. "How do I figure out if they're Chinese? Should I ask them?" a colleague wondered.
The befuddlement reflected in screenshots of the group exchanges seen by The Associated Press had a common source - instructions from Moscow's public transit operator Wednesday for drivers to call a dispatcher if Chinese nationals boarded their buses, Russian media reported.
A leaked email that the media reports said was sent by the state-owned transportation company Mosgortrans told dispatchers who took such calls to notify the police. The email, which the company immediately described on Twitter as fake, carried a one-word subject line: coronavirus.
Since the outbreak of the new virus that has infected more than 76,000 people and killed more than 2,300 in mainland China, Russia has reported two cases. Both patients, Chinese nationals hospitalized in Siberia, recovered quickly. Russian authorities nevertheless are going to significant — some argue discriminatory — lengths to keep the virus from resurfacing and spreading.
Moscow officials ordered police raids of hotels, dormitories, apartment buildings and businesses to track down the shrinking number of Chinese people remaining in the city. They also authorized the use of facial recognition technology to find those suspected of evading a 14-day self-quarantine period upon their arrival in Russia.
"Conducting raids is an unpleasant task, but it is necessary, for the potential carriers of the virus as well," Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said in a statement outlining various methods to find and track Chinese people the city approved as a virus prevention strategy.
The effort to identify Chinese citizens on public transportation applies not only to buses, but underground trains and street trams in Moscow, Russian media reported Wednesday.