‘It’s silent outside’: Italy, France and Spain adapt to life under coronavirus lockdown

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People in some of Europe’s largest cities are adjusting to a new way of life as governments in France, Spain, the Netherlands and others joined Italy in imposing restrictions on tens of millions of people.

The coronavirus has been spreading rapidly across Europe, and Italy remains the second most-heavily affected country in the world after China, where the illness first emerged.

Italy recorded 368 more coronavirus-related deaths Sunday, its biggest one-day rise since the outbreak began, amid growing concerns over how its strained health system will cope with a relentless increase in new cases.

In an interview with the Corriere della Sera newspaper, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte warned that damage from the virus will be “serious and widespread.”

“A true ‘reconstruction plan’ will be needed,” Conte told the paper. “After the coronavirus, nothing will be as before. We will have to sit down and rewrite the rules of trade and the free market.”

Conte said no further bans were needed but it was important to “scrupulously” respect the existing ones.

The government said Monday afternoon that it plans to spend an additional 25 billion euros, or $27 billion, to tackle the effects of the virus.

Last week, the Italian government imposed nationwide restrictions to curb the virus spread, closing schools, shops and sporting events and ordering people to stay home, except for essential travel.

“Scientists are telling us that the outbreak has not reached its peak, these weeks will be the most risky, and the maximum precaution is needed,” Conte said, explaining that the lockdown’s results will be seen in a few weeks.

Authorities have filed complaints against 20,000 people for violating the lockdown, according to the Ministry of the Interior.

There are now more than 24,000 confirmed cases in Italy, and so far 1,809 deaths.

In Madrid, streets that are normally bustling at all hours of the day and the night were empty throughout the weekend and into Monday.

Spain enacted a partial lockdown Saturday night as the country tries to stem the outbreak. People are only allowed to leave their homes to go to work, the pharmacy or a hospital.

“It’s silent outside,” said Cassandra Nelson, 25, who lives in central Madrid after moving from Charlotte, North Carolina, in August to teach English.

After Nelson’s school shut down Wednesday, she spent most of her time in her local park with friends, but even that closed Saturday.

“Almost everyone has a balcony and that’s our only way to get sun, so everyone pops out on their balcony all day long. There’s singing, playing music and dancing,” she said. “We are trying to survive through this without dying of boredom.”

In Madrid, police fined 199 people and arrested one person for breaking the quarantine, Mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida told state television TVE.

More than 1,000 troops have been deployed across the country to police the lockdown, telling people to go home unless they have a good reason to be outside. Spain has confirmed more than 7,800 coronavirus cases and 292 deaths.

France’s top health official warned Monday that the country is struggling to curb the spread of the pandemic.

“A lot of people have not understood that they need to stay at home, and this low level at which people have adhered means that we are not succeeding in curbing the outbreak of the epidemic,” Jerome Salomon told France Inter radio Monday.

He added it would be “catastrophic” if France were to reach a stage on deciding whether to save the lives of certain patients over those of others. The country has more than 5,400 confirmed cases of the virus and 127 people have died.

“This morning, I appeal to all French people to mobilize in the fight,” he said.

French President Emmanuel Macron is set to give a televised address to the nation Monday night.

A government order to close restaurants, bars and cinemas came into effect Sunday and officials urged citizens to minimize their nonessential movements.

By Sunday morning, sidewalk cafes in Paris stood barren. Stacks of chairs, absent of tourists and gossiping locals made for a forlorn scene. At the historic Dome fish restaurant and cafe, a sober sign was taped to the brass-trimmed door: “Exceptional closing due to COVID-19.”

Some restaurants had takeout signs on their doors as carrying away food is still allowed. But the usually bustling Montparnasse tourist haunt was eerily quiet.

But Sunday, people mingled in parks, riverbanks and public spaces from Paris to Marseille, causing concern among officials that the public was not heeding warnings.

By Rachel Elbaum, CNBC, Reuters, Associated Press and Michele Novaga

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