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Coronavirus: Italy on lockdown, SA increases efforts to contain the spread

All public gatherings will be banned, sports events including soccer matches are suspended, and movement is being severely restricted across the nation in a bid to contain the disease caused by the coronavirus.

This picture taken on 9 March 2020, on the A8 motorway towards Italy in Nice southeastern France, shows a board sign reading "Coronavirus information on 107.7". Picture: AFP

JOHANNESBURG - The whole of Italy is being put on lockdown as the country tries to stop the spread of COVID-19.

All public gatherings will be banned, sports events including soccer matches are suspended, and movement is being severely restricted across the nation in a bid to contain the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Italian media is reporting that just moments after the announcement, supermarkets were stormed by people frantically buying up food and other essentials.

Italy is Europe’s worst-hit nation in the outbreak with 463 virus-related deaths, an increase of almost 100 in a 24-hour period, and more than 9,000 confirmed infections in just over two weeks.

WATCH: Don’t spread fake news: These coronavirus reports are false

The lockdown means that for the next month, around 60 million people will effectively be under quarantine by the strict measures, which had already been introduced in northern and some central areas over the weekend.

CNN's Ben Wedeman said it was a case of "easier said than done".

“You see buses are running, people are out on the street as normal. Now, in theory, it means that people are not allowed to leave those areas, but the authorities haven’t had the time or the resources to make this a reality.”

Meanwhile, here at home, the health ministry has confirmed all coronavirus cases in South Africa so far have been traced back to Italy.

On Monday, the ministry announced that four more people had tested positive for COVID-19 in KwaZulu-Natal, bringing the total number of cases to seven.

WATCH: Four more South Africans test positive for COVID-19

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said they were part of a group that recently returned from a holiday in the Italian city of Milan.

The health department said the four latest patients may have come into contact with at least 65 people some - of whom have already been tested.

Mkhize’s department now faces the task of tracing more individuals for screening.

Mkhize said efforts to contain the spread of the virus have been increased.

“The infection, at some point, will become an infection where it becomes a local transmission, which means beyond the one person who had come from outside, then our local people would be the ones who are transmitting the virus. That situation is what we are currently looking out for.”

Mkhize said some people who tested positive but were not displaying symptoms would still be checked until their results come back negative.

An inter-ministerial task team is dealing with the virus.

ATTENTION ON JSE AS STOCKS PLUNGE

Attention will shift back to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) on Tuesday morning after stocks plummeted due to fears about the coronavirus and a spiralling oil price.

The all share closed down more than 6%, following international markets that have also been battling.

But it was the significant drop in the oil price that saw Sasol losing more than 46% of its share value.

A price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia saw the oil price plummet by around 30%.

An infographic showing the number of confirmed coronavirus infections in South Africa on 9 March 2020. Picture: EWN

Sasol then led South African stocks to four-year lows, with many sectors affected.

The decline was compounded by fears that the impact from the fast-spreading coronavirus will intensify.

Chief economist at Alexander Forbes Isaah Mhlanga said: “It seems every day we understand that the impact is going to be bigger than we initially thought.”

He said the JSE was simply among international markets affected by the virus and low oil price.

The rand has also been battling against the dollar and pound, with economists worried that this trend will continue.

WATCH: In 2 minutes: Why no one in SA should panic about Coronavirus