The Italian government has imposed a sweeping quarantine on the Lombardy region and 11 northeastern provinces that are together home to some 16 million people in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus, has so far claimed the lives of 233 people.
Taking effect on Sunday and remain in force through April 3, the measure would prohibit people from entering or leaving the affected areas except in cases of "non-deferrable work reasons" or emergencies, Efe news reported citing a draft of the proposed decree as saying. Lombardy, with roughly 10 million residents, accounts for more than 20 per cent of Italy's gross domestic product. The regional capital, Milan, is the country's most populous metropolitan area.
The lockdown will also apply to the provinces of Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Reggio, Rimini, Pesaro e Urbino, Venezia, Padova, Treviso, Asti and Alessandria, all located in the northeastern part of the country. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Italy stands at 5,883 and 85 per cent of those patients are in Lombardy and the 11 named provinces.
Italy issues lockdown
Besides preventing people from entering or leaving the "red zones", the prospective decree calls for closing gyms, swimming pools, thermal baths, museums and ski resorts, while shopping centres will be required to close on weekends. The aggressive quarantine calls for the postponement of large gatherings, ranging from cultural and sporting events to weddings and funerals. Italy's top professional football league, Serie A, announced earlier this week that it would begin holding matches behind closed doors.
The government has also ordered schools and universities nationwide to suspend classes until March 15. Those in the quarantine areas will now remain shuttered until April 3. Restaurants and bars in the designated areas will be permitted to remain open, with the condition that they maintain a minimum distance of a metre between patrons. The new plan represents a massive expansion of the isolation regimes imposed two weeks ago on 11 municipalities with a total population of around 50,000.
Number of coronavirus cases increasing
The number of new infections climbed by 1,145 in 24 hours, civil protection chief Angelo Borrelli said Saturday. Lombardy's health system is struggling under the burden of treating 1,661 people hospitalized with coronavirus, including 359 patients in intensive care.
"In the absence of urgent and adequate measures on the part of the authorities, we will have to face a event that we will only be able to describe as a disastrous health calamity," the office that coordinates intensive care units in Lombardy said in a statement. Worldwide, more than 100,000 people have been infected with the coronavirus and nearly 3,500 have died from the illness.