‘Pure madness’: Chaos as 16m locked down
Italy has been thrown into chaos after the Prime Minister announced a sweeping coronavirus quarantine affecting about a quarter of the country's population in a desperate attempt to contain the outbreak.
In its most drastic move so far, Italy's government has locked down the entire Lombardy region in the country's north, including Milan, along with at least 15 provinces in neighbouring regions.
Entry and exit to affected areas is now forbidden, weddings and funerals banned, cinemas, gyms, pubs and museums closed. Anyone violating the new law can be arrested and fined.
There was confusing in the city of Padua as word quickly spread about the impending lockdown.
People rushed out of bars and restaurants to railway stations, many carrying suitcases and wearing gloves and masks as they pushed onto trains.
Italian virologist Roberto Burioni described the leak as "pure madness".
"The draft of a very harsh decree is leaked, sparking panic and prompting people to try and flee the [then] theoretical red zone, carrying the virus with them," he wrote on Twitter. "In the end, the only effect is to help the virus to spread. I'm lost for words".
The World Health Organisation has said there are now more than 100,000 people across the globe infected with the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus.
Follia pura. Si lascia filtrare la bozza di un decreto severissimo che manda nel panico la gente che prova a scappare dalla ipotetica zona rossa, portando con sè il contagio. Alla fine l'unico effetto è quello di aiutare il virus a diffondersi. Non ho parole. pic.twitter.com/ZazcDnYFej— Roberto Burioni (@RobertoBurioni) March 7, 2020
As of today’s reports, global number of #COVID19 confirmed cases has surpassed 100K.— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) March 7, 2020
WHO reminds all countries & communities that the spread of this #coronavirus can be significantly slowed or even reversed through robust containment & control activities https://t.co/7jTx7fJyIw pic.twitter.com/fLxLDOtxCH
Italy's prime minister announced a sweeping coronavirus quarantine early Sunday, imposing restrictions on the movement of about a quarter of the country's population in a bid to contain a widening outbreak.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree after midnight that imposes restrictions to the movement of people in the region of Lombardy - which has the country's second largest city of Milan at its centre - and in at least 15 provinces, home to more than 16 million people. The measures will be in place until April 3.
"For Lombardy and for the other northern provinces that I have listed there will be a ban for everybody to move in and out of these territories and also within the same territory," Mr Conte said.
"Exceptions will be allowed only for proven professional needs, exceptional cases and health issues."
Around the world, more and more countries were bracing for a big increase in virus cases. Western countries have been increasingly imitating China - where the virus first emerged late last year, and which has suffered the vast majority of infections - by imposing travel controls and shutting down public events.
After the city of Venice cancelled its cherished Carnival and governments warned citizens against travel to Italy, the epicentre of Europe's outbreak, the country is facing a possible recession.
Hotel occupancy rates in the lagoon city are down to 1-2 per cent.
"The surface of the Grand Canal is like glass because the boats that transport merchandise are not there. On the vaporetti (water buses), there are only five or six people," Stefania Stea, vice president of the Venice hoteliers association, said.
Italy on Saturday saw its biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases since the outbreak began in the north of the country on February 21.
In its daily update, Italy's civil protection agency said the number of people with the coronavirus rose by 1247 in the last 24 hours, taking the total to 5883. Another 36 people also died as a result of the virus, taking the total to 233.
The country is now one of the worst afflicted globally. Only China and Iran have had more deaths. In contrast France, the European country with the second highest number of deaths, has recorded fewer than 20 fatalities.
There was chaos and confusion in the northern Italian city of Padua in the Veneto region as word spread late Saturday evening that the government was planning to announce the quarantine.
Packed bars and restaurants quickly emptied out as many people rushed to the train station in Padua.
Travellers with suitcases, wearing face masks, gloves and carrying bottles of sanitising gel shoved their way onto trains.
Before Conte signed the quarantine decree, Stefano Bonaccini, president of the Emilia Romagna region, said parts of the decree were confusing, and he asked the premier for more time to come up with solutions that were more "coherent".
Anyone leaving or entering Lombardy without authorisation could be fined, under the decree. The new law could see cinemas and schools closed and gatherings banned, even funerals.