SHOPPERS scrabbling for the last packets of pasta have stripped supermarket shelves bare as Italy is gripped by the worst coronavirus outbreak outside Asia.
The Covid-19 disease spread to southern Italy for the first time today, as 54 new cases took the total to 283 with seven deaths.
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Forty new cases were reported in Lombardy, the centre of the outbreak where 12 towns have been quarantined inside a 30km "red zone" around Milan.
There were nine more positive tests in neighbouring Veneto, and one in Sicily - the first case south of Rome.
The woman had travelled from Bergamo near Milan when she fell ill in Palermo and took herself to hospital.
News the infection had spread to the other end of the country sparked panic buying of food and medical supplies as Sicilians feared a lockdown like in the north.
Supermarket shelves were emptied from Palermo to Milan, where authorities issued an appeal for calm.
Queues formed at pharmacies as they sold out of surgical masks and hand gel.
Attilio Fontana, president of Lombardy, said: "Rushing to stock up on food doesn't make any sense. There are enough supplies."
And Milan mayor Beppe Sala said: "Rather than dashing to the supermarkets to grab food, perhaps we should spend time looking after the most vulnerable, such as old people, who are particularly at risk."
Petra Dalla Tor said some shelves were bare in her local supermarket in Milan.
She told CNN: "I've never seen it before. The empty shelves were only regarding pasta, biscuits, and canned goods. No problem with fresh fruits and vegetables.
"I don't really understand how serious the situation is, so I just wanted to buy something and be prepared for the week.
"Masks are unavailable in all the pharmacies and via Amazon it will take a couple of weeks to have them. People bought all of them and pharmacies run out of stock, I guess. Same with hand sanitiser."
Italian authorities are are hunting the "patient zero" super spreader who was the original source of the outbreak, which exploded from three cases to more than 200 in four days.
Some 55,000 people in 12 towns in Lombardy and Veneto are under effective quarantine with police guarding roadblocks to stop movement in and out.
Offices and schools are shut and people have been told to stay indoors for two weeks.
Across northern Italy, around 27 million people are affected by travel restrictions.
Milan, the nation's commercial capital, resembled a ghost town after tourist sites were closed and fashion week was axed.
In Venice the annual festival was cancelled and cleaners were sent out spraying streets and gondolas against the virus.
And Tom Cruise was evacuated from the city where he was filming a new Mission: Impossible blockbuster.
A terminal ghost town
By Nick Pisa in Milan
STRAIGHT after going through passport control at Milan’s Linate airport the first thing that hits you is how quiet the baggage hall is.
Normally the place is chaotic and crowded, especially at this time of year for the finale of Fashion Week with designers and models jetting in from all over the world.
But now there is hardly a soul about and what few there, are all wearing masks and gloves as panic grips the city thanks to Coronavirus.
I’m stopped by a masked health worker who asks me where I have flown in from and then takes my temperature holding a scanner to my forehead.
After it bleeps and assures me I’m well I’m allowed to go through and in arrivals the place is like a church - silent and empty, the usual hustling taxi drivers nowhere to be seen.
The terminal is like a ghost town and even the car hire desks which normally have queues standing outside them are eerily quiet.
As I pick up my car the man behind the desk asks me where I’m going and when I tell him I’m here to cover the Coronavirus outbreak he says: "Don’t forget a mask - that’s if you can find one. They are all gone."
I tell him medical evidence says they are ineffective and it’s all down to good old fashioned hand washing but he warns me some shops aren’t letting people in unless they have one.
It feels as if I have entered some crazy world. Especially if you think about how 17,000 people die from flu every year in Britain, whic is almost eight times more than the global current Covid 19 death toll.
The outbreak has caused a ripple of panic in neighbouring countries as experts warned similar sudden clusters could erupt elsewhere in Europe.
Austria and Croatia today confirmed coronavirus cases in people who crossed from Italy.
And 1,000 holidaymakers including Brits were quarantined at a resort in Tenerife after an Italian tourist tested positive there.
Yesterday Austria stopped a train crossing from the Italian side of of the Brenner Pass after two of the 300 passengers on board had flu-like symptoms.
In France, Lyon bus station was put under lockdown after a the driver of a FlixBus coach from Milan had a bad cough and was quarantined in hospital.
EU chiefs have refused to impose border checks despite experts warning further clusters could erupt all over the continent.
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Scientists warned last night Covid-19 might be the fabled "Disease X" pandemic that could kill 80million people worldwide.
Marion Koopmans, a member of the WHO’s emergency committee, wrote in the journal Cell: “Whether it will be contained or not, this outbreak is rapidly becoming the first true pandemic challenge that fits the disease X category."
More than 80,000 people have caught the disease so far, with more than 2,700 deaths.