Italy will expand the lockdown of the Lombardy region to the entire country, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Monday as Italy’s case count surged, making it the country with the most COVID-19 cases outside of China.
People throughout the country of 60 million should not travel other than for work or emergencies, Conte said. He added that all public gatherings will be banned and sporting events suspended. The decision was made to protect the most vulnerable people in the country, he said, and the measures will take effect Tuesday and last until April 3.
“The right decision today is to stay at home,” Conte said. “Our future and the future of Italy is in our hands. These hands have to be more responsible today than ever before.”
The nationwide lockdown is an expansion of quarantine measures rolled out over the weekend that applied to an area of the country that encompassed about 16 million people.
Schools and universities all over the country will remain closed until April 3, he said, but public transit will remain operational. All schools in the country were previously closed until March 15. He also said all restaurants and bars across the country will have to close at 6 p.m.
The announcement marks the most extensive efforts taken by a government outside of China to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“We don’t have any time. The numbers are showing that there has been a significant growth in infections, people in intensive care and deaths,” he said. “Our habits have to change right now. We must give things up for Italy.”
Streets deserted as Italy imposes unprecedented coronavirus lockdown
Italy faced an unprecedented lockdown on Tuesday that left streets in the capital Rome and other cities deserted after the government extended a clampdown across the entire country in a bid to slow Europe’s worst outbreak of the coronavirus.
The measures, announced late on Monday by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, widen steps already taken in the rich northern region of Lombardy and parts of neighboring provinces, restricting movement and banning public gatherings.
“The future of Italy is in our hands. Let us all do our part, by giving up something for our collective good,” Conte said in a tweet, encouraging people to take personal responsibility.
The latest steps came after data showed the coronavirus outbreak continuing to spread, with 9,172 positive cases recorded as of Monday and 463 deaths, heavily concentrated in the prosperous northern regions of Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Veneto.
In Rome, cars circulated freely under a clear blue sky in the normally traffic-clogged center and commuters could find seats in the usually packed underground system during rush hour.
Rome landmarks including the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps and St Peter’s Square in the Vatican were closed or empty, with police telling tourists to return to their hotels.
For at least the next three weeks, people have been told to stay at home if possible, moving only for reasons of work, health needs or emergencies. Anyone traveling will have to carry a document declaring their reasons and schools and universities will remain closed.
Outdoor events, including sports fixtures, have been suspended, while bars and restaurants will have to close from 6 p.m. Shops are allowed to remain open as long as customers maintain a minimum distance of a meter between each other.
“The whole of Italy is closed now,” was the headline in Corriere della Sera, the country’s largest circulation daily.
In the wake of the clampdown, neighboring Austria said it would deny entry to people arriving from Italy, while British Airways canceled all flights to and from the country.