French president warns of ‘crisis’ in Europe as Italy’s coronavirus cases surge

Venice: The number of coronavirus infections in Italy has surged to 650 as French President Emmanuel Macron warns Europe is "only at the beginning" of a major health "crisis".

Having earlier this week predicted new cases from an outbreak in northern Italy would stabilise, the Italian government on Friday Australian time announced total cases had grown to 650 – up from just three one week before.

Nearly 250 are being treated in hospitals, 56 are in intensive care and about 280 at home in isolation. About 50 had been treated and cured but 17 – all elderly citizens – have died in the days since the cluster took off in a group of towns in the country's northern Lombardy region.

Cases in France more than doubled in a day to 38 and also grew substantially in Germany. New infections were reported for the first time in Denmark, Estonia, Norway, Romania and The Netherlands. Twenty one European nations have now recorded one or more cases.

The Dutch National Institute for Public Health said the patient in the southern city of Tilburg had recently travelled in northern Italy and is now being treated in isolation.

"To prevent the sickness from spreading further in the Netherlands, [public health authorities] … will trace who has had close contact with the infected patient," the institute said. Those contacts would be closely monitored for illness."

After visiting a Paris hospital where France recorded its first coronavirus death, Macron told health workers Europe would confront the growing threat "as best we can".

"We are facing a crisis, an epidemic that is coming. We know that certain countries are already much more affected than us," Macron said.

"We know that we’re only at the beginning. We’re going to try to make the right decisions."

As Italy teeters on the brink of recession, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio claimed the situation was under control and said a fraction of the overall population was affected. He criticised media coverage of the quarantine of a dozen towns in northern Italy and said it had unfairly damaged tourism in major cities like Milan and Venice.

Cases have been discovered in 13 of Italy's 20 regions.

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