Seven million Californians living in and around San Francisco are being ordered to shelter in place — the most draconian step taken so far to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
"We know these measures will significantly disrupt people's day-to-day lives, but they are absolutely necessary," San Francisco Mayor London Breed said Monday. "This is going to be a defining moment for our city and we all have a responsibility to do our part to protect our neighbors and slow the spread of this virus by staying at home unless it is absolutely essential to go outside."
The order affects not only the city of San Francisco, but six surrounding counties in Northern California.
All stores and businesses will be shuttered except for such essential places as supermarkets and drug stores.
San Francisco Police Chief William Scott says officers will take what he calls a "compassionate common sense approach" toward anyone who starts suffering from cabin fever and has to leave his house. Scott says police will treat a violation as a misdemeanor, but only as an "absolute last resort."
The lockdown will remain in force through April 7.
Other U.S. cities have banned gatherings of more than 250 people, closed schools and restaurants, and canceled a variety of events. But this is the first large municipality to order people off the streets — the same action that has been taken in all of Italy. There have been no reports of any major ill-effects from the lockdown there so far.
Keeping people as far apart as possible during the pandemic has given birth to the first new global catch phrase of the 2020s: "social distancing" — the practice of keeping people at least 1.8 meters away from each other to avoid spreading the coronavirus.
The World Health Organization said Monday it welcomes social distancing as a necessity. But WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said more importantly, every suspected case must be tested.
"If they test positive, isolate them and find out who they have been in close contact with up to two days before they developed symptoms, and test those people too," Tedros said.
U.S. health officials have decried the lack of coronavirus testing kits despite White House assurances that everyone who wants a test would soon be able to get one.
Meanwhile, many schools around U.S. and other countries are shut down. New York and Los Angeles have ordered movie theaters closed and restaurants are offering only delivery and food to go.
The Netherlands and Turkey have ordered similar closures, while New Zealand on Monday became the latest country to ban large gatherings of more than 500 people.
The Vatican announced Pope Francis will hold Easter week services without an audience.
Argentina, Canada, Colombia and Panama are the latest countries to seal off their borders to foreign visitors.