A quarter of the Italian population was locked down on Sunday as the government takes drastic steps to stop the spread of the deadly new coronavirus that is sweeping the globe.
This move puts the entire Lombardy region, as well as 14 other provinces, under travel restrictions, and is one of the toughest responses implemented outside of mainland China to get the Covid-19 epidemic under control.
Italy has seen the most deaths from the COVID-19 disease of any country outside China, where the outbreak that has now killed more than 3,500 people and infected over 100,000 worldwide began in December.
The measures are in place until April 3 bar people from entering or leaving vast areas of northern Italy without good reason, according to a decree signed by the prime minister and published online.
The quarantine zones are home to more than 15 million people and include the regions around Venice and financial capital Milan.
While the lockdown only applies to northern Italy, other measures will be applied to the entire country. These include the suspension of schools, university classes, theaters and cinemas, as well as bars, nightclubs, and sports events. Religious ceremonies, including funerals, will also be suspended.
Italy has the world’s second-oldest population after Japan, according to the World Bank, and elderly people appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill from the virus.
Retired doctors are being recruited to bolster the Italian healthcare system, while civil protection officials say the Lombardy region is having trouble finding beds in hospitals.
The death toll in Italy has risen by 133 to 366, the Civil Protection Agency said on Sunday, by far the largest daily rise since the contagion came to light last month
On Saturday, France’s general director of health, Jerome Salomon, confirmed 16 dead and 949 infected nationwide, and Germany now has 795 cases. The United Kingdom confirmed a second death from the novel coronavirus on Saturday, while 206 people have tested positive, British health officials said in a statement.