Italian soldiers wearing sanitary masks patrol Duomo square in downtown Milan, Italy, Feb. 24, 2020.
Italian soldiers wearing sanitary masks patrol Duomo square in downtown Milan, Italy, Feb. 24, 2020.

ROME - The death toll in Italy from the coronavirus outbreak stands at seven with more than 200 cases confirmed. At least 10 towns in the north are in lockdown mode and the army is ensuring no one enters of leaves them during a quarantine period.

Italian authorities are working around the clock putting in place unprecedented measures in an effort to curb the surge in coronavirus cases. In at least six regions in Italy’s industrial north, schools and universities are closed. People have been told to stay away from their offices and remain indoors as much as possible.

Theaters and museums have also been closed as have bars and discos. Venice carnival events have been cut short for the first time ever.

Tourists are wearing protective masks against coronavirus in Venice, Italy, Feb. 23, 2020. (S. Castelfranco/VOA)

Authorities have banned all demonstrations and public gatherings, including sporting events and church services as Italy deals with the biggest outbreak in Europe. The head of Italy’s civil defense department, Andrea Borrelli, said authorities were surprised by how fast the virus has spread. He said a plan is in place to house people who have contracted the virus and for those in quarantine.

Borrelli says thousands of beds are available throughout the national territory and that army barracks and hotels have been made available. He also says extra food and medical supplies will be taken to the towns in lockdown in northern Italy.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte says residents in affected towns could face weeks in lockdown.

In Milan over the weekend, many residents raided supermarkets, leaving empty shelves, fearing they would not be able to go to the shops. The Lombardy region is Italy's hardest hit region and streets are deserted. Many people have been told to stay home and work from there. Those who venture out have been wearing surgical masks. One vendor outside a Milan railway station said he was selling the masks for $11 each.

University students in affected areas were unable to sit for their exams.

This student says she had three exams this week and all of them have been canceled. The student says she does not know when she will be able to take them.

According to the student, the Milan mayor said for the moment, colleges will be closed for a week but that this closure could be extended to a fortnight or more.

Italians have been told to avoid traveling to affected areas. At the airports, passengers are being checked for symptoms of the virus with heat sensors. Some regional train lines have canceled service, but fast trains between the major cities are still operating normally.