The Slatest

Coronavirus: Italy Puts Quarter of Its Population on Lockdown as Cases Soar

Tourists wearing a protective face mask walk on San Marco square in Venice on March 8, 2020.
Tourists wearing protective face masks walk on San Marco square in Venice on Sunday. Andrea Pattaro/Getty Images

Italy’s government has implemented the most restrictive measures outside China to try to contain the rapidly spreading coronavirus. Early Sunday, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree that virtually locks down large parts of the country’s wealthy northern region, affecting a quarter of its population. The extraordinary move amounts to the country sacrificing much of its fragile economy in an effort to try to slow the increase of new cases.

The unprecedented restrictions, which will affect the movement of some 16 million people, forbid anyone from entering or leaving Lombardy, which is Italy’s richest region, as well as 14 provinces in four other regions. Affected areas include the country’s economic and cultural capital of Milan as well as landmark tourist destinations such as Venice. It is still unclear what the restrictions mean for foreigners who are currently in one of the affected areas.

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Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced the new restrictions in the middle of the night, saying that there would be no exceptions to the prohibitions except for those who had proven, work-related or health reasons that required them to travel in and out of the affected areas. “We are facing a national emergency. We chose from the beginning to take the line of truth and transparency and now we’re moving with lucidity and courage, with firmness and determination,” Conte said. “We have to limit the spread of the virus and prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed.” The measures, which also ban funerals and cultural events, are in place until April 3 for now. All of the country’s schools had already been closed.

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It remained unclear exactly how stringent the controls would be, but it marks the first test of whether the types of restrictions of movement that have been imposed in China can work in a country—and region—that prizes its freedoms. When word started to leak out about the upcoming decree, many in the affected areas rushed to train stations as chaos and confusion reigned. Regional politicians expressed surprise at the move and were not shy about making their anger at Rome known for not giving them a heads-up before the news started to be reported in the media.

The restrictions were announced after a day in which Italy suffered its biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases, with the number of infected people rising 1,247 to 5,883. Among those infected was the head of the governing coalition’s Democratic Party. “Well, it’s arrived,” Nicola Zingaretti said in a Facebook video. “I also have the coronavirus.” Deaths rose to 233.

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