ROME - Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has taken new extraordinary measures to fight the spread of Coronavirus in Italy, where more than 5,800 people have been infected and the death toll, now over 200, continues to rise.
The government approved a new decree which effectively locks down the region of Lombardy in the north and 14 other provinces, covering one quarter of the Italian population.
Italy has never experienced anything like the emergency restrictions approved overnight and which are effective from Sunday. The wealthy region of Lombardy and 14 other provinces in the nearby regions of Emilia-Romagna, Veneto and Piedmont have been locked down in efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.
This will affect busy cities like Milan, Venice, Parma and Modena as well as others. The prime minister said the new measures will be enforced by police. More than 16 million people living in Italy’s northern areas will be impacted.
In an evening press conference, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte explained the new restrictions
He said there will be no movement to and from these areas or within them, except for emergencies or for health reasons or for proven work-related matters. People who need to return to their homes, he added, will be allowed to do so.
The prime minister said that anybody who has a fever of 37.5 Celsius and flu-like symptoms is strongly recommended to stay at home, limit all contacts with others and contact their doctors.
The prime minister said that all subjects who have been placed in quarantine because they have tested positive to the virus are prohibited from leaving their homes.
The government decree also expanded restrictions on all places where crowds or a large group of people normally gather. Schools and universities will remain closed in these areas until April 3rd and in the rest of Italy until March 15, but these dates for some area in Italy could be extended.
Museums, theaters and cinemas have also been closed nationwide. In the so called “orange areas” of the north, gyms, swimming pools, ski resorts and cultural centers will remain closed. Only restaurants and bars will be allowed to stay open from 6am to 6pm as long as tables are kept one meter apart.
No church services will be held, including funerals and weddings. Pope Francis will not appear at his regular window on Saint Peter’s Square during the emergency, and his prayers from inside the Vatican will be streamed.
The Italian government lifted the quarantine on the 11 towns in Lombardy and Veneto that were initially at the center of the outbreak.
Italy is the worst affected country in Europe and has the highest number of deaths after China. Authorities are still struggling to understand how the epidemic in Italy began.
The prime minister also canceled all leave for health workers in the northern region and has called for further assistance from other parts of Italy.