Italy to close schools and universities amid COVID-19 outbreak

University students are seen at La Sapienza University Campus on March 4, 2020 in Rome, Italy. Italy is considering closing schools and universities until mid-March, media reports say, in effort to Contain COVID-19. (Photo by Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)

Italy is set to close all schools and universities and ban public gatherings in the country in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19.

State-run RAI radio and the ANSA and LaPresse news agencies reported on Wednesday that the move had received approval from Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte at a cabinet meeting.

Learning institutions in the worst affected regions of northern Italy, where some towns have been quarantined, had already closed more than a week ago.

Italy is the worst affected European countries, having recorded more than 2,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Some 79 people have died from the virus since the first patient tested positive on 19 February.

The ban on public gatherings will affect cinemas and theatres among any other public events across the country.

Italy has also seen its top football games affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The Italian Cup semi-finals between Juventus and AC Milan and Napoli and Inter Milan have been postponed.

Sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora said on Wednesday that Serie A games may be played behind closed doors over the next month in an effort to contain the virus.